Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ban on Smoking Just About Everywhere Outdoors in Loma Linda Goes Into Effect

Last Friday, what is perhaps the nation's most restrictive smoking ban went into effect in the city of Loma Linda, California. The ordinance, adopted by the City Council on June 24, bans smoking practically everywhere outdoors in the city, with the exception of private residential property and outdoors smoking outposts at shopping centers.

Other than private residential property or approved smoking areas at shopping centers, the ordinance bans smoking in every outdoor area in the entire city. The only exception is a privately owned outdoor area if no nonsmoker is present and "due to the time of day or other factors, it is not reasonable to expect another person to arrive." On publicly owned property, there is no smoking outdoors allowed, without exception.

This means that there is no smoking in any street, in any alleyway, on any sidewalk, in any public parking lot, or anywhere else outdoors in Loma Linda, unless it is private property and there is no expectation of another person arriving (which amounts to a ban on smoking except in the wee hours of the night).

The Rest of the Story

Before getting to the draconian nature of this law, I need to comment on the hypocrisy of the Loma Linda City Council (other than the one councilor who voted against the ordinance).

The city council declared that it needed to ban smoking everywhere in the city, even in remote outdoor locations where no nonsmoker was present, because in its own words, it desired to:
  1. protect children from exposure to smoking and tobacco;
  2. reduce the potential for children to associate smoking and tobacco with a healthy lifestyle; and
  3. affirm and promote the family-friendly atmosphere of the City’s public places."
In other words, the city council believed that public smoking is such an affront to the public atmosphere that it needed to ban public smoking so that children wouldn't see any smokers.

Well ... if smoking is such an affront to the family-friendly atmosphere of the city, then why was there a need to allow smoking in what are probably the two places that are most crowded and where children are most likely to see smokers: the Loma Linda Plaza Shopping Center and Mountain View Plaza Shopping Center?

I think the answer is obvious: because the city council has no integrity or willingness to stand up for a principle, especially when it perceives that standing up for that principle may interfere with the money that the city brings in.

Ironically, if you are in a remote public alleyway with no person present within hundreds of feet, you cannot smoke; however, if you are at a crowded shopping plaza with hundreds of children and families milling around, you are allowed to smoke in a designated area.

Interestingly, city councilors determined that smoking is a bad influence on children in all public places in the city with the exception of shopping centers.

One other comment before I get to the draconian nature of this law. I reject the city council's three justifications for this ordinance's prohibition of smoking in virtually all outdoors areas of the city. I don't think that preventing children from seeing smokers is a valid justification for a smoking ban. I think the reason to enact smoking bans is to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure.

The same justification that the city council used to ban smoking in virtually all outdoors locations could also be used to ban the consumption of fatty foods in public, or even to ban obese people from public places.

This is why I find the ordinance to be draconian in nature: because it goes beyond the desire to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure. There is clearly no need to ban smoking in every outdoor location in a city in order to protect nonsmokers from the hazards of tobacco smoke exposure. Banning smoking on every street and in every sidewalk, alley and parking lot is simply not justified by any science which demonstrates that exposure to secondhand smoke in these locations represents a significant public health problem.

Even worse, by banning smoking virtually everywhere outdoors, this ordinance might just succeed in pushing smokers to where they city apparently wants them: indoors. And with that comes an even worse public health problem than this ordinance is intended to solve -- exposure of children to secondhand smoke in the home.

What the city is basically saying is that if you are a smoker, we don't want to see you smoking outside. Keep it inside, where you can expose your children to the smoke in the privacy of your own home.

Is it really better for smokers to expose their children to secondhand smoke than to smoke in outdoors locations where their children are not exposed, but people might see them smoking?

The penalties in the ordinance for failure to enforce its provisions are also draconian, in my opinion. According to this ordinance, if you own a hardware store and a guy is smoking in a remote area of your parking lot, with no one within sight, you are guilty of violating this ordinance if you don't accost him and stop him from smoking. Does that really make any sense?

It's interesting to me how the goalposts have changed during the time I have been involved in advocacy for smoke-free public places. Initially, the purpose was to protect nonsmokers from tobacco smoke. Now, the purpose is apparently to protect people from having to see smokers.

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