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Council Takes Major Step to Expand Smoking Ban

By Jorge Casuso

July 26 – The City Council Tuesday night directed staff to expand Santa Monica’s list of public places where smoking is illegal, potentially making the City’s smoking ban one of the strictest in the State, if not the nation.

Citing second-hand smoke as a health hazard, the council voted 5 to 1 to draft an ordinance that bans smoking in all outdoor dining areas and “service areas,” which include theater and ATM lines, and within 20 feet of entrances or windows to buildings open to the public.

The proposed ordinance also bans smoking on the Third Street Promenade and the Farmers Markets. Santa Monica law already prohibits smoking in public parks and beaches, on the pier and in public waiting areas.

“It’s time to snuff it out,” said Council member Kevin McKeown. “This law makes an incredible amount of sense.”

“At the same time we have been incrementally legislating, the evidence has been pouring in building the case against second-hand smoke,” said Council member Richard Bloom, who made the motion to adopt the recommendations made by staff.

“The studies have been done over and over,” Bloom said. “I think the time has come to take further steps.”

The only dissenting vote was cast by Council member Pam O’Connor, who argued that if smoking is a health hazard -- as stated by California officials -- the state should ban tobacco, instead of relying on individual cities to impose local bans piecemeal.

Santa Monica’s ordinance, “is an attempt to ban smoking totally,” O’Connor said. “Let the State Legislature ban tobacco.

“We are criminalizing people who smoke when it is still a legal substance,” O’Connor said. “We are not giving them an option… If the public policy of the State is to end smoking, then the State has to do it.”

With Tuesday’s vote, Santa Monica joined at least 13 other California cities that ban smoking in outdoor dining areas, a measure that polls indicate is supported by most Californians, according to the staff report.

Nine other California cities already ban smoking in outdoor “service areas,” and an equal number of cities prohibit smoking near the entrances to buildings open to the public.

Before casting its vote, the council heard from anti-smoking advocates representing a wide array of health associations, including the Asthma Coalition, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.

Also testifying in favor of the ban were representatives from anti-smoking groups, including Healthier Solutions, Smokefree Air For Everyone (SAFE) and the Coalition for a Tobacco Free LA.

Proponents far outnumbered opponents of the ordinance, who were chiefly represented by Promenade restaurateur Wes Hooker, who argued that the smoking ban in outdoor patios would drive away customers, especially tourists.

“It’s going to be a shocker and create a problem in the tourist population,” said Hooker, who owns Laconda del Lago and is a member of the Convention and Visitors Bureau board. “Consider a step process so that people can catch up with it.”

But the council members weren’t buying the economic arguments, noting that even Irish pubs continued to pack in patrons after smoking was banned in pubs, restaurants and workplaces in the Irish Republic.

“The fear of losing customers is unproven after smoking bans,” McKeown said. “The loss of life is real.”

The vote comes six months after the California Air Resources Board officially identified second-hand smoke, or ETS, as a “toxic air contaminant.”

Further scientific studies by an independent panel of scientific experts found that “outdoor nicotine concentrations in some outdoor locations such as outside office buildings, schools, businesses, airports and amusement parks was comparable to those found inside smokers’ homes,” according to the City staff report.

The panel also determined that exposure to second-hand smoke “increases breast cancer in younger, non-smoking, pre-menopausal women,” staff wrote.

Second hand smoke had already been linked to adult incidences of lung and nasal sinus cancer, heart disease, eye and nasal irritation, and asthma, according to the staff report.

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