The following editorial was submitted to the Los Angeles Downtown News on August 19; there is no guarantee of publication, of course, but it notes the practical impact of the August 8 Motion introduced by Councilman Parks.
"THIS IS THE POLICE; WE’D LIKE TO SPEAK WITH YOU"
Imagine a knock on your door on a weekday evening, or a weekend afternoon. A Los Angeles Police officer wants to speak with you, to find out if you were smoking a cigarette or a cigar or a pipe in the hallway of your apartment building.
Or on a street corner. Or in a parking lot. Or in back of your office building, in the open air.
If City Councilman Bernard Parks has his way, the officer will cite you, or perhaps arrest you for using a legal product: tobacco. On August 8, Parks introduced a motion asking the City Attorney to draft an ordinance to ban smoking essentially everywhere in the City of Los Angeles, and a Resolution asking the County to do the same.
My research shows that there about 384,000 adult smokers resident in the City and about 998,000 in the County. Compared to the City’s police force of 9,600, that’s at least a 40-1 ratio of smokers to officers in the City and the ratio gets even larger in the County. Parks has stated in an online editorial that his no-smoking ordinance should not impose any significant burden on the police. Huh? Is that because he expects the police to just ignore smokers, or will enforcement be on a "sometimes" basis?
What’s worse, criminalizing smoking will have the horrifying effect of creating an entirely new reason why police can stop and question someone. Even if you’re not a smoker, are the police simply allowed to ignore a call from a trouble-making neighbor who accuses you – living in the apartment across the hall – of smoking in the hallway . . . even if you don’t smoke?
This is a dangerous aspect of Parks’s proposal, not to mention the drain on not just the police, but also the City Attorney’s Office, who must prosecute these cases. Will tourists also be cited or arrested? What about the homeless who smoke?
Parks says he wants to eliminate outdoor smoking because of the threat from secondhand smoke. In fact, there is no health threat from passing exposure to secondhand smoke and the 2006 Surgeon General’s report on the subject never even mentions such a threat.
Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor in the Boston University School of Public Health and a long-time supporter of indoor smoking bans, is dead-set against outdoor bans and he explains why in a recent blog entry about a similar ban in tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com:
"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."
He also notes that the same justifications 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."
Councilman Parks, in a tight race for a Supervisor post against former City Councilman and current State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, has gone too far. Please withdraw your motion; I am a smoker, but I am not a criminal.
(Mr. Perelman, a life-long resident of Los Angeles, works in the Wilshire Center area and is the editor-in-chief of CigarCyclopedia.com. A Web site on this issue has been created entitled WeAreNotCriminals.com.)