Sitting and writing about stopping smoking bans is one thing. Sitting in front of a Los Angeles City Council committee and trying to have an impact is something else.
But someone had to stand up, so I did.
On Wednesday, September 3, I attended a meeting of the City’s Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee at City Hall. On the agenda were two anti-smoking items which had been working their way through the legislative process:
(1) The first was a draft ordinance (no. 07-1790) banning smoking at city-permitted "farmer’s markets," which had been drafted by the City Attorney following a motion by Council members Wendy Greuel, Jose Huizar and Richard Alarcon in July 2007. The legislative link is here.
The three-member committee – Tom LaBonge (chair), Janice Hahn and Jan Perry – approved the ordinance without objection and it will now be sent on to the full Council, where it will be approved quickly. It will no doubt be signed into law by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
(2) The second item was a request from June made by Council members Greig Smith and Dennis Zine (no. 08-1544) for a ban on smoking in all outdoor dining areas. The committee was being asked to approve the motion to have the City Attorney draw up an ordinance, and then that approval would then have to be agreed to by the full Council to start the drafting process. The legislative link is here.
This was expected to be a more contentious matter and there were 10 speakers. Nine were in favor of the ordinance and I was the lone opposer. My statement to the committee (which Hahn didn’t hear because she was late) included:
I am here today to oppose the proposed, unnecessary ordinances against smoking at Farmer’s Markets and in outdoor dining sections of restaurants.
I am urging you to reject these proposals as unnecessary because they pose no threat to the public health and serve only to demonize smokers.
In the U.S. Surgeon General’s 727-page report on the consequences of involuntary smoking issued in 2006, no recommendations were made concerning outdoor smoking restrictions. In fact, less than a single page in the entire report dealt with outdoor smoking; that report was concerned solely with the impact of indoor smoking. And there are no studies which demonstrate that transient encounters with outdoor smoking create any kind of health hazard.
Because there is no health threat in these outdoor settings, I submit that the City already has an ordinance which covers this issue in section 41.16 of the Municipal Code which reads, "No person shall throw, blow or otherwise scatter on any street, sidewalk, restaurant, cafe, theatre, place of amusement or other public place any snuff, or any substance which injuriously affects the olfactory nerves or which causes sneezing or coughing or otherwise injuriously affects the person."
While it is today fashionable to ban smoking almost everywhere, the proposed ordinance does not address a public health issue and will do nothing to reduce the incidence of smoking in Los Angeles. It does subject smokers, a minority in this community, to additional ridicule for consuming a legal product.
If the City were serious about trying to reduce smoking using Farmer’s Markets or outdoor restaurant sections, it could be promoting smoker’s help programs in these locations. If the City wishes to remove smokers from public view, then it must give them someplace to go which is out of public view.
But for the City to simply continue to ban smoking and then hope it will not have to enforce violations is bad policy and will make a bad law.
The promoters of the ban were the usual suspects: deputies from the Council members who proposed it, the American Lung Association, American Heart Association and so on. Hahn, although for the motion, had questions about enforcement (the Assistant City Attorney present agreed enforcement would have to be done by the Los Angeles Police Department) and LaBonge was concerned about economic impacts to restaurants.
The committee did not approve the motion to have an ordinance drafted, but LaBonge asked for and received a 45-day continuance during which time a "round table" discussion will take place which is to involve all of the stakeholders who would be effected.
But LaBonge had no doubts about the outcome. He said, during the meeting, to the anti-smoking groups, "you’re going to see success eventually" on this item. How much success will depend on how strong the push-back is from restaurants and others during the round-table hearing and then in subsequent hearings when the ordinance is actually drafted.
For myself, I count the continuance and the "round table" meeting as a small win. There is something to the notion that simply showing up is important.
We will post the time and place of the "round table" meeting as soon as we know it. For further information about this meeting, please contact the Fourth District’s legislative deputy, Young-Gi Kim at (213) 485-3337 or by electronic mail at Young-Gi.Kim@lacity.org.