Council Expands Smoking Ban
By Olin Ericksen
October 12 -- Arguing that the health benefits will far outweigh any potential economic risks, the City Council Tuesday expanded Santa Monica's far-reaching anti-smoking laws with news cameras rolling.
Over the outcries of local businesses who fear the law could impact the $50 million brought in by tourists each year, the council unanimously sided with a number of statewide and national health organizations that have intensely lobbied the council for months.
Using citations to enforce the ban, the law stamps out smoking in all outdoor dining areas; outdoor waiting areas, such as ATMs, bus stops and movie lines; areas within 20 feet of entrances, exits or open windows of buildings open to the public, the Third Street Promenade and all farmers markets.
“Cardiovascular disease is the nation’s number one killer and second-hand smoke is a huge contributor,” said Nick Bott of the American Heart Association, noting that nearly 3,000 deaths in California each year are attributed to drifting smoke.
“This stuff is bad. It’s killing people and making people sick,” Council member Richard Bloom agreed, as a phalanx of news cameras rolled in the council chambers.
Citing a California Air Resources Board report that found second-hand smoke is detrimental to health at any level, council members and City officials said local businesses will not be impacted financially and that health was an overriding concern.
“It’s a long time coming,” Council member Katz said of the ordinance. “Let’s quit being afraid of losing business and get with it.”
However some local businesses worried the ordinance -- which if approved on second reading, as expected, will go into effect on Thanksgiving Day -- could impact their bottom line.
“The first time a resident or tourist is cited, it will not only alienate that smoker, but anyone who came with them,” said Kelly Wallace, a member of the Bayside Board, which oversees the Downtown, including the Third Street Promenade.
The board, Wallace said, does not support a ban on the Promenade without evidence that second-hand smoke is a problem on the popular walk-street. Furthermore, targeting the Promenade is unfair to Downtown businesses, he said.
“A specific geographic area should not be designated,” Wallace said.
Bur council members argued that it was the large crowds on the Promenade that made the ordinance necessary.
“It’s a crucial area for us to enact the ordinance,” said Bloom. “On the weekend, the crowds are enormous.”
Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky, who helped write the law, said the City is taking the concerns of Promenade businesses into account. Smoking would be allowed more than 20 feet from the nearest business entrance on every cross street off of Third Street, from Broadway to Wilshire, according to the ordinance.
“There might be a problem for people who want to smoke on the Third Street Promenade,” Radinsky said. “So you would have an oasis, if you will, for smokers.”
Bruce Cameron, a board member of the Convention and Visitors Bureau – which cannot vote to oppose or support City ordinances – said moving forward with the ban could have unknown consequences.
“To say it has no fiscal impact implies a degree of certainty that doesn’t exist,” Cameron said. “This cannot be done without more input and more study.”
Between 26 and 28 percent of Santa Monica’s 4.8 million visitors per year come from countries, such as Japan, where smoking is prevalent, Cameron said.
“Our tourism structure is heavily dependent on foreign tourism,” he said. “With a 10 percent impact, there goes your education fund,” said Cameron, referring to the more than $6 million the City gives local schools each year.
“Right now, if I’m coming to Santa Monica from Paris, hell the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Rey looks pretty good to me,” he said.
Council members didn’t buy the argument.
“So what?” Katz said to Cameron. “Why are we always talking economics -- this is a health issue. When you don’t have your health, I don’t care what else you have, you’ve got nothing.”
There is precedence for the ban in other cities, Radinsky said, and Santa Monica officials have anecdotal evidence that suggests the ban has not adversely impacted those cities, which include Berkeley, Redding and Calabasas.
“There have already been a good number of cities that have acted,” he said. “What they have found, up and down the state, are very good reactions.”
Health advocates at the meeting noted that, according to their research, only a handful of citations have been handed out in those cities over several years.
Council members noted that Santa Monica has been a leader in the successful drive to ban smoking inside restaurants and, most recently, on the beach.
“Been here, done it, heard all the tales in the past,” Genser said, who has been on the council for 18 years. “I don’t think there’s going to be any negative effects, period.”
Further, Genser said he hopes the new ordinance will help stir other municipalities to act.
“This affects people in many places,” he said.
After the law goes into effect, a 120-day grace period will kick-in, officials said.
“As with Santa Monica’s previous smoking restrictions, the primary means of enforcement would be education, awareness and voluntary compliance,” Radinsky wrote in a press release issued Wednesday.
“If necessary, and if a smoker refuses a request to stop smoking in a prohibited location, police officers may also give citations,” Radinsky said.
Violators would face fines of $250 for an infraction that would be similar in nature to a jaywalking citation, he said.
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