Thursday, March 27, 2008

Berkeley to Ban Smoking Outdoors Throughout Business District

According to an article on the KCBS radio station site and another article on the local CBS television station site, the city of Berkeley has approved an ordinance that extends its outdoor smoking ban to include essentially the entire business district of the city.

Previously, the ordinance prohibited smoking within 25 feet of the entrance to any building open to the public and on sidewalks along 16 major streets. Now, the ordinance bans smoking outdoors in all commercial zones and essentially means that smoking will not be allowed at all in the business sections of the city.

The Rest of the Story

While at first glance, it might appear that the city of Berkeley passed this ordinance to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke, it turns out that the ordinance is part of a larger measure entitled the "Public Commons for Everyone Initiative."

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, this is an effort to crack down on "yelling, littering, camping, drunkenness, smoking, urinating and sex on sidewalks and in parks."

According to the article, the initiative "will provide more housing, benefits counseling and public toilets for the hundreds of homeless people in Berkeley. It also beefs up enforcement of laws against lying on the sidewalk and imposes a smoking ban in commercial areas. Under the plan, seniors or social workers would walk around monitoring street behavior and either direct homeless people to social services or call the police if necessary. "There are people on the streets that we as a society are collectively responsible for," said City Councilman Laurie Capitelli. "I think sometimes people need help fixing their lives, and we collectively have to help people do that." City staff began crafting the initiative earlier this year in response to regular complaints from visitors, merchants and residents that the city's public places were becoming increasingly inhospitable as a result of rowdy behavior."

In other words, Berkeley business owners just want to get homeless people out of the way so that they don't lose money because people are annoyed to see these homeless people and don't want to have to deal with them.

While this might seem understandable, though insensitive, it appears that public smoking has been lumped into this group of morally reprehensible behaviors, including public yelling, littering, camping, drunkenness, urinating, and sex.

I can understand why city officials would want to outlaw public yelling, public littering, public camping in certain areas, public drunkenness, public urination, and public sex. However, how in the world did public smoking get onto that list?

Regulating smoking in order to prevent substantial secondhand smoke exposure among nonsmokers is reasonable, as I have long argued. However, banning smoking because city officials want to protect members of the public from having to see smokers is disturbing.

What's next? Is Berkeley going to ban fat people from business districts so that shoppers don't have to see the sight of the obese?

The Berkeley City Council states that the government has a responsibility to help people fix their lives. OK, I'll entertain that notion. But is smoking a problem that the government has to "fix" for people?

Sure, it makes sense for the city to provide social workers who can go around and offer services to homeless persons and try to help them obtain needed services and programs, and especially, housing.

But you don't go around approaching smokers and telling them that they need to rehabilitate themselves and fix their lives. You don't legislate that.

The impetus for the ordinance was that city officials were receiving complaints about rowdy behavior. How exactly is smoking "rowdy behavior?"

It really has the appearance that Berkeley public officials are trying to protect citizens from having to endure the sight of smokers.

I think I am now safe in opining that the anti-smoking movement has indeed gotten out of control.

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