Banning Sidewalk Smoking

19 Mar 2006
March 19, 2006
Smoking Leads to Lots of Smoke

Walking down the street can be hazardous to your health.

I do a lot of urban walking. Decent public transportation lets me keep my car at home during the week. This LA kid is proud to say his five year old car only has 15,000 miles on it. I walk about 10 miles a week just getting to and from the subway. It’s good for my health and the environment. My California friends who traverse the freeways (or drive to the grocery down the block) shrug in disbelief.

I enjoy relying on my feet to get me where I want to go. But more and more I’ve found myself having to dodge traffic. No, not crazy drivers. Smokers.

I am becoming more incensed whenever I have to quickly detour to avoid cigarette smoke wafting from the pedestrian in front of me. I haven’t quite developed my “anti-smoking on the street” persona –you know, the look that says what you’re thinking but won’t invite any physical altercation. But I’ve started wishing the ban on smoking in restaurants would be extended outside.

The Washington Post is reporting the Southern California city of Calabassas has now banned outside smoking. Wherever you can smell it smoking is now against the law. Not only is smoking banned on sidewalks, “the ordinance grants nonsmokers the right to tell smokers to snuff out their butts. If smokers refuse, the ordinance says, they will be liable for stiff fines.”

I applaud you Calabassas. Where’s the petition, I’ll sign. But I can only imagine how this civic duty would play on the sidewalks of DC.

6 replies
  1. CorkChop says:

    There’s a ban of smoking in resturants in DC? WHEN? Here in Florida you can’t smoke in resturants period. I travel to DC a lot and find it quite annoying when they even ask, “smoking or non?”

  2. Jeff says:

    I should have said the “upcoming ban.” The DC City Council passed an anti-smoking law in January (vote: 11-1). Mayor Williams let the bill move to a final approval by Congress without his signature (yes, the Congress is the final say on all DC laws).
    To stay abreast of the latest on the “Smokefree Workplaces Bill” before your next trip to Washington, CorkChop, check out SmokefreeDC.

  3. M. says:

    Seriously? Okay, but you’ve already chased us smokers out of every covered structure in the city. If we can’t smoke inside, and we can’t smoke outside, then pray tell, where are we to smoke? Careful now: if smoking really is an addiction, then “well just DON’T” would be an unacceptably reactionary answer. (Of course, if smoking really is an addiction, then generation of tax revenue by means of ever-increasing tax hikes on an addict’s addiction is pretty mercenary too, but that’s another conversation.)
    I’d love to have not gone the Anonymous Coward route with this post, by the way, but once upon a time I made a blog post about being the subject of some anti-smoker verbal abuse by some stranger whilst standing on a public street, minding my own business for a three-minute smoke break. I got jumped all over for having had the nerve to be standing there smoking in the first place. (Standing STILL, mind you, it wasn’t as if my new friend had been sucking down my smoke for three blocks.) It’s so much fun being one of the last groups in America it’s OK to abuse!

  4. Jeff says:

    M, I’m truly sorry you are addicted to tobacco. Truly. I’ve been trying to get my sister to quit (sorry sis, I had to go public) and I tried for years to get my mother to quite, but to no avail. I know how hard it is to stop smoking.
    That being said, it’s also hard to be an unwitting participant in your smoking. Many decades before they “discovered” that second-hand smoke was bad, I had severe asthma. As an infant I could hardly catch my breath. My mother told me it really scared her. I’m sure it scared me too. But I can also imagine her cigarettes were not helping.
    I don’t know first hand what it feels like to be addicted to tobacco. But I know first hand what it feels like not to be able to breathe. It’s scary as hell.
    I couldn’t take care of my mother. I can’t take care of my sister nor you. But I am responsible for taking care of myself. And I’d like to be able to walk down the street without having to dodge smoke.
    The fact of the matter is this: smoking affects those around you. That isn’t rocket science. And because of that it’s a social problem, not just a personal one. So when I support a ban on outside smoking it’s because the people who are affected by your smoke deserve a say.
    BTW, I have nothing against you smoking in your own home. That’s your business.
    And M, I understand your desire to be anonymous. But you don’t have to put a fake email when leaving a comment here. I don’t pass it on to anyone and it’s never displayed.

  5. M. says:

    Lots of things affect those around me. And around you. The question is, where do you draw the line in a way that’s as fair as can be for as many people as possible?
    If I’m standing still in front of my office having a smoke. You walk past me. It’s outside and there’s wind, air, and all that good stuff. Is the small amount of my smoke you’re going to breathe really justification for passing a law that I can never smoke outside again?
    There was asthma in my family when I was growing up, too –the severe of the midnight-run-to-the-ER, 2-Primatene-Mist-inhalers-per week variety. So yeah, no argument. Not being able to breathe = pretty scary-looking from the outside. But a falling-over-wheezing asthma attack is NOT going to result from your walking past me while I smoke on the street. It’s just not. I am able to be sympathetic to your illness while calling B.S. at the same time.
    If you’re walking down the street in Washington you’re breathing way more automotive exhaust than you are cigarette smoke. Shall we ban all autos, then? Or maybe just Metrobuses, the old ones: those things are filthy. Or—hey, I drive a hybrid-electric car, so my net air pollution even with the smoking is probably actually less than that of a non-smoker who drives a regular gasocar, so maybe you go ahead and pass your no-smoking-outside-ever law, but with an exemption for those of us who’re reducing our social impacts on your personal lungs in other, more effective ways?
    You and I live in a densely populated urban area. It is a choice to do so. This choice necessitates a million compromises a day, a million negotiations of personal space and personal values with the people around us. If you were to make a impact-ranked list of ways in which that choice adversely affects your quality of life, and if you were to be honest about it, you would have to admit that sidewalk smoke is far enough down that list to be ranked as an irritant, not a risk to your well-being or a threat to your health.
    I’d have no argument with a blog post saying “wow, is it obnoxious to trail someone with a lit cigarette down the block,” because I don’t particularly enjoy that either. But puffing that up to a public-health-level pollution threat? I’m sorry: it simply doesn’t fly.
    Thanks for letting me air the viewpoint of the disgruntled opposition.

  6. Jeff says:

    I actually never said that street-side smoke would cause me to have an asthma attack (truth be known, I was lucky to grow out of my asthma when I was about 12). M, what I actually said was that I know what it’s like not to be able to breathe.
    Second-hand smoke is unhealthy. It’s a proven fact. I’d like to minimize my exposure to it. In addition, as you pointed out, it IS a quality-of-life issue. I’d simply like mine to be better as I walk down the street.
    Well, I guess we’re both lucky: lucky neither of us are writing the laws. -grin. And for now that will have to be the last word on this.
    Thanks for your comments.

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