The time for a smoking ban inside Santa Barbara city limits is now!
I know I’m going to receive a lot of pushback from smokers, and I welcome it! The reality is that, although I am a strong supporter of personal freedoms, I do not support one person’s right to exercise their freedom at the expense of others. This is exactly the situation with smoking in public. Whether the smoker is standing on a street corner, at an outdoor café or driving in their car, they are forcing others to breathe smoke. This is simply wrong and unacceptable.
It is estimated that 73,000 people die in the United States each year from secondhand smoke. Everyone knows that smoking kills people, so there is no point in discussing or debating this issue. If it were possible for a person to smoke without affecting anyone else, I am all for their right to do so. The reality is that it is next to impossible for anyone to smoke without it affecting others.
I am a member of Spectrum Fitness and work out several times each week at the downtown location. Each time I leave the gym, I walk to the parking lot and pass behind the Canary Hotel. Without fail, there are hotel employees sitting back there smoking, and I must walk through a cloud of their smoke to get to my car. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Why is it acceptable in society, and more to the point here in Santa Barbara, the birthplace of the environmental movement, for me or anyone else to be forced to breathe smoke? In fact, almost without exception, any time I am walking downtown or driving my car I am forced to breathe smoke. A change in local smoking ordinances is long overdue.
In 1975, Minnesota enacted the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, making it the first state to restrict smoking in most public spaces. (In 2007, Minnesota enacted a ban on smoking in all restaurants and bars statewide.) Aspen, Colo., became the first U.S. city to restrict smoking in restaurants, in 1985. In 1987, Beverly Hills initiated an ordinance to restrict smoking in most restaurants, in retail stores and at public meetings. In 1990, San Luis Obispo became the first city in the world to restrict indoor smoking in all public places, including bars and restaurants.
California’s 1994 statewide ban on smoking was expanded in 1998 to include a restriction on smoking in bars. The California smoking ban encouraged other states, such as New York, to implement similar regulations. There are currently at least 37 states with some form of smoking ban. Some areas in California began banning smoking across entire cities, including every place except residential homes. More than 20 cities in California have enacted park and beach smoking restrictions.
A 2007 Gallup poll found that 54 percent of Americans favored completely smoke-free restaurants, 34 percent favored completely smoke-free hotel rooms and 29 percent favored completely smoke-free bars. Several studies have documented health and economic benefits related to smoking bans. In the first 18 months after Pueblo, Colo., enacted a smoking ban in 2003, hospital admissions for heart attacks dropped by 27 percent while admissions in neighboring communities without bans showed no change. The decline in heart attacks was attributed to the ban, which reduced exposure to secondhand smoke. A similar study in Helena, Mont., found a 40 percent reduction in heart attacks following the imposition of a smoking ban.
Many studies have been published in health industry literature on the economic effect of smoking bans. The majority of these government and academic studies have found there is no negative economic impact associated with smoking restrictions and many findings indicate there may be a positive effect on local businesses. A 2003 review of 97 such studies of the economic effects of a smoking ban on the hospitality industry found that the “best-designed” studies concluded that smoking bans did not harm businesses. A 2006 review by the U.S. Surgeon General found that smoking restrictions were unlikely to harm businesses in practice, and that many restaurants and bars might see increased business.
In 2003, New York City amended its smoke-free law to include all restaurants and bars. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found in a 2004 study that air pollution levels had decreased sixfold in bars and restaurants after the restrictions went into effect, and that New Yorkers had reported less secondhand smoke in the workplace. The study also found the city’s restaurants and bars prospered despite the smoke-free law, with increases in jobs, liquor licenses and business tax payments.
Santa Barbara is widely known as an environmentally focused city. We depend on tourism for our local economy, which is second only to education as our primary economic driver. I believe strongly that an overwhelming majority of visitors would prefer a smoke-free Santa Barbara, and that a citywide ban on smoking would promote improved tourism and therefore improved economic activity and tax revenues.
Santa Barbara has long been known as the birthplace of the environmental movement in the United States. It is time we place the same focus on our local air quality and the health of our citizens and visitors that we have placed on other environmental issues. Frankly, it is an embarrassment that we are so far behind on something as basic as banning smoking, which has more than sufficient scientific proof supporting the damage of secondhand smoke to our health.
I call on the City Council to make this a priority — to protect the health of those who choose not to smoke, and to make Santa Barbara a more appealing place for visitors to come, enjoy our city and spend their money.