No ban on outdoor smoking

Media frenzy leads to speculation about proposed ordinance
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondentc
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By Jon Brines Placer Herald Correspondent Media outlets from around the world and on the worldwide web were ablaze last week with stories about an outdoor anti-smoking ordinance in Rocklin. Last Thursday the Placer Herald broke the story that a Rocklin resident had approached the city council asking for an outdoor anti-smoking ordinance. Sacramento television news, the N.Y. Daily News, CNN, the BBC and conservative British tabloid newspapers, like the Daily Mail, circulated the story that the city was considering an all out ban on outdoor smoking throughout the city. Social media sites on the internet attacked the city, including Tara Dadrill, a political and environmental writer for Yahoo, who wrote an op-ed calling the proposal an “infringement on liberty.” Earlier this week, city officials posted a curt press release on their website decrying the news reports about a ban as ”misinformation.” “A citizen did step forward at our last city council meeting and did ask for an ordinance to ban outdoor smoking. The city of Rocklin did listen and ultimately directed the citizen to the state of California Air Resources Board (ARB),” the statement read in part. “There is no consideration of the issue and no study planned beyond the initial review of the citizen’s request,” it read. The issue was raised after Rocklin resident James Baker addressed the council on Jan. 24 as a last resort, frustrated by his family’s asthma and his smoking neighbors, who refused to stamp out their backyard cigarette smoking — just 30 feet away. Baker said he was surprised and disappointed by the city’s statement after meeting with City Manager Rick Horst last month. “My original request to the city council was to create a nuisance ordinance to protect citizens who are continually exposed to secondhand smoke against their will,” Baker said. “This is a poison issue, not a property rights issue.” Baker asked the council for a $100 fine to be levied for violators of any penned ordinance. “People have a right to smoke in the privacy of their own homes. However, when they go outside and expose their neighbors to harmful carcinogens, Rocklin citizens should have recourse,” Baker said. In a Feb. 14 interview with the Placer Herald, Horst indicated there are still a number of questions to answer. “The question is if we were to adopt an ordinance I would have to ask what will it cost to enforce. What will it cost to administer? What is the likelihood of it being challenged by lawsuits,” Horst said. “We have to answer all those questions before we move forward.” Horst added the state is in a better position to handle any ordinance. “It’s not what we do,” Horst added. Now it appears the proposal has gone up in smoke. Jolyn Tenn, spokesperson for Forces International, a libertarian nonprofit founded to fight nonsmoking laws, said the effort is fruitless. “This has already been tried and failed in court. There has never been a study about outside exposure whatsoever,” Tenn said. “What’s coming out of cars driving past this guy’s house is worse for his asthma than cigarette smoke.” The city’s apparent refusal to look into the matter may seem like a setback for non-smokers, but not according to Liz Williams from Americans for Non-Smokers Rights, a Berkeley based national non-profit. “They may not necessarily be ready to take action based on input from one individual, but if that one individual sparks community conversation, the council may end up hearing from multiple people in the community and realize there is broad base of support in the community,” Williams said. “That’s when they are more willing to take something on.” Baker has vowed to form a political action committee to do just that. “I have gotten calls this last week from concerned citizens and news media outlets all over the country about the issue,” Baker said. BBC producer Alex Barnett told the Placer Herald he ran the story because the smoking bans are beginning to take hold in the United Kingdom. He added that it has become a polarizing issue in his country. “This is the greatest garden story. This is really interesting for us,” Barnett said. “The smoking bans in pubs are pretty much accepted now. But there is not necessarily an appetite to see it banned in parks and a huge numbers of places.” Williams said the city can drop an all out ban and opt for a nuisance ordinance instead. That option would help Baker’s burden of proof if he chose to take legal action against the offending party. “People can go to small claims court (anyway) but they have to take steps to prove it. The nuisance ordinance just takes that burden away,” Williams explained. “The person doesn’t have to bring all those studies in person if the city has already taken that step to say this is one of those things known to be a nuisance.” Williams said of the 18 California communities that have enacted nuisance smoking ordinances, each has done it on its own and without support from the state’s Air Resource Board. Williams hopes a grassroots effort will get the city back on board. “This is just the beginning,” Williams said. “City councils have the right and responsibility to look out for the health and safety of their community.”