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Santa Barbara City Council Meets With Locals to Discuss Smoking Ban in Public Areas

Some speakers voice concerns about tobacco's health effects, while restaurant and bar owners worry about losing business with a ban

Santa Barbara City Council Members. from left, Frank Hotchkiss, Randy Rowse and  Cathy Murillo, listened to more than an hour of public comment Tuesday about expanding smoke-free, outdoor public areas in the city. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara City Council Members. from left, Frank Hotchkiss, Randy Rowse and Cathy Murillo, listened to more than an hour of public comment Tuesday about expanding smoke-free, outdoor public areas in the city. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Downtown Santa Barbara bar and club owners say a stricter smoking ordinance in the city would be a real drag on business.

Meanwhile, a handful of environmental-advocacy groups and locals counter that it’s the city’s role to protect the health of its residents. 

The Santa Barbara City Council is considering updating its smoking laws to expand smoke-free, outdoor public areas.

Council Members Cathy Murillo, Frank Hotchkiss and Randy Rowse listened to more than an hour of public comment Tuesday afternoon during a hearing and discussion at City Hall.

The following areas are being considered for a possible ban on smoking: beaches, parks and sports fields, Stearns Wharf, the harbor, outdoor restaurant patio areas, outdoor bar patio areas, commercial sidewalks and paseos, parking lots and structures, entryways to public buildings, community centers, libraries, recreational facilities, public events, farmers markets, concerts, parades and outdoor work sites. 

Some 10.5 percent of adults report smoking cigarettes in Santa Barbara County, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I don’t want to disenfranchise smokers because they are the minority,” Hotchkiss said. “I don’t see many smokers. I don't think we have examined this enough, mainly with the parks and beaches.”

Santa Barbara’s current ordinance prohibits smoking in outdoor service areas where people stand or wait for service, including bus stops and boarding areas of public bus stations. 

Smoking is allowed in 25 percent of outdoor restaurant seating areas before 10 p.m. and 100 percent after 10 p.m., according to a staff report.

Last updated in 2002, the city’s smoking ordinance is no longer consistent with California laws that now include more areas where smoking is prohibited. 

It also does not address vaping devices and marijuana, according to a staff report.

In June, a new California law when into effect and prohibits the use of electronic smoking or vaping devices anywhere cigarette smoking is not allowed. 

In addition, smoking was redefined to include marijuana. 

With the approval of the Proposition 64, smoking marijuana is not permitted while driving a vehicle, in any public place other than at a business licensed for on-site consumption, and at locations where smoking tobacco is prohibited, according to a staff report.

At the discussion, the Council Ordinance Committee received input from the public and made recommendations on smoking ordinance amendments.

Small-business owners expressed concerned about how regulations could affect them.

“If smoking is banned on patios, then ‘yes’ we would loose customers,” Wildcat Lounge owner Bob Stout said. “I understand second-hand smoke is bad, and the health ramifications — but I have to stick up for customers, residents and tourists who enjoy having a cigarette.”

A representative of Santa Barbara Channelkeeper said expanding smoke-free outdoor areas would help reduce cigarette butt litter and benefit the ocean and waterways. Click to view larger
A representative of Santa Barbara Channelkeeper said expanding smoke-free outdoor areas would help reduce cigarette butt litter and benefit the ocean and waterways. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Elsie's Tavern owner Pete Degenhardt said smoking is prevalent in foreign countries and could hurt tourism.

“There will be unhappy tourists, which will lead to reduced tourism,” Degenhardt said. “Tourists being stopped by police is not going to foster joyful memories this city has.”

Degenhardt said he is willing to meet with residents near his establishment to find ways to diminish the smoke being blown their way.

A small-business owner of a bar on upper and the 400 block of State Street said designated outdoor smoking areas at restaurants and bars are kept clean at his establishment. 

“We keep it clean,” he said. “At least if it’s contained in my business, there’s not a single cigarette out front of my bar.”

A nightclub manager said she is a non-smoker, however, a stricter ordinance could pose safety concerns.

She said the designated area at the nightclub provides a safe environment, and customers seeking a place to smoke may find themselves walking into dark places late at night.

Katie Torres, the communications specialist at First 5 Santa Barbara County, said the organization supports updating the smoking laws to expand smoke-free to outdoor areas.

“It protects our children and demonstrates a healthy tobacco norm,” Torres said. “Tobacco use is not a behavior we want to model for the children in our communities.”

One speaker with asthma and multiple residents expressed concern about the harmful effects of cigarettes, and said they were concerned for their health due to public exposure to second-hand smoke.

Penny Owens, who works with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, said expanding smoke-free outdoor areas would help reduce cigarette butt litter and benefit the ocean and waterways.

Coastal cleanup day volunteers picked up more than 12,000 cigarette filters at a one-day event, Owens said.

“Cigarette filters are repeatedly the No. 1 item we pick up,” Owens said. “Our volunteers are often overwhelmed with the number.”

Council members plan to continue the discussion in the coming month.

“We don’t have to make a definitive decision,” Rowse said. “We are looking to give staff direction to give back to us.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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