Commentary: Does Proposed Extension of the Smoking Ban Unfairly Target Homeless Populations?

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smoking-in-the-park

The city of Davis has long had a comprehensive no-smoking ordinance in place. Smoking is already not allowed in most publicly accessible spaces – not just in all indoor public establishments, which has become the norm in California and many other places in the country.

Smoking is also prohibited at public events including sports events, entertainment, speaking performances, ceremonies, pageants and fairs. It is prohibited in entrances and exits to enclosed public areas, the entryway of any enclosed public area, stairways, courtyards, areas not open to the sky, any place with food or drink offered, and children’s play areas, among others.

But should the city go further? This week, they are introducing an ordinance that would for the first time ban smoking in public areas that are open air – public parks and greenbelts, open spaces in the city used for passive or active recreation, and E Street Plaza in downtown Davis.

This meets the council objective of “Safe and Healthy Communities: pursue and promote policies that promote and encourage healthy lifestyles.”

As city staff notes, “The detrimental effects of smoking are well-documented, as are the hazards posed by secondhand smoke. The United States Surgeon General, the California Legislature and the California Health and Safety Code find that tobacco smoke is a hazard to the health of the general public and involuntary smoking is a cause of disease, including lung cancer, in healthy nonsmokers.”

But that point is not in question. There is a more serious and probably unintended impact. When we talk about banning smoking in public parks, greenbelts, publicly owned spaces and the E Street Plaza – are we effectively targeting homeless people who use those spots, at least during the day, to sit and occupy? Are we effectively trying to ban homelessness in the city through this ordinance? Or if we are not doing so intentionally – are we not at the very least doing is as an unintended consequence?

We need to think longer and harder about the consequence of this initiative. A lot of people are clearly sensitive to smoke and it can be a nuisance to be walking in a public area around someone smoking. But parks and greenbelts are big open expanses. Smokers in most cases are easily avoidable. There are already laws that prohibit smoking near playgrounds (children’s play areas).

So the first question I think we should ask here is whether there is really an unavoidable public nuisance that this thing is addressing. Or can we accomplish the same intent of keeping smokers away from non-smokers or people allergic to smoke, without outright bans?

Secondly, the council is pushing this under the guise of a public health risk. So let us unpack this. Clearly the smoker is incurring their own mitigated risk. The homeless population is heavily comprised of a various levels of substance abusers. A ban in certain areas will simply force people away from the open areas and toward either more secluded areas or other areas where smoking is still permitted.

So let us think about the consequence of this. First, do we really want to flush out people who are in the open, into secluded areas? Second, do we really want to push smokers onto streets or other areas where the ban is not in effect?

Third, what is the enforcement mechanism here? Are we really looking to subject a bunch of homeless people to fines? That sounds increasingly like the complaint in places like Ferguson. Is it really the right thing to impose fines on a bunch of addicts who are impoverished?

Fourth, the resolution states, “The City Council hereby declares that prohibiting smoking in the City’s public parks, greenbelts, plazas and open spaces is necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents and visitors within the City by limiting their exposure to involuntary secondhand smoke.”

Is this assertion backed by health studies? That there is a health and safety risk to people in an open air park exposed to secondhand smoke and that this an unavoidable risk?

The bottom line is that I completely understand people inside not wanting to be exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke. I completely understand the current laws.

But to me this current proposal goes so much further. It has the effect of targeting homeless people. Yes, we all understand that smoking is harmful, but banning smoking in more and more public areas is not going to stop homeless people from smoking – it will simply target them with fines and harassment by law enforcement.

I do not see a stated clear public health justification for this law, and the unintended consequences seem to outweigh any benefit we receive.

I urge the city council to think clearly about the consequences of this ordinance before they pass it.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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23 thoughts on “Commentary: Does Proposed Extension of the Smoking Ban Unfairly Target Homeless Populations?”

  1. Barack Palin

    I’m not a smoker but I’m against this ordinance because we already have adequate no smoking areas defined within the city and don’t need Wolk mothering us further.   I could care less how in someone’s mind any such ordinance might be unfair to the homeless.

  2. sisterhood

    I do care about the homeless. Its a shame that certain readers couldn’t have a little more empathy for others less fortunate. I’m grateful for my good fortune and do not feel entitled to it.  I am also against any further ordinances.

    1. Barack Palin

      I’m grateful for my good fortune and do not feel entitled to it. 

      I’m grateful for my good fortune and do feel entitled to it because I worked hard to earn it.

       Its a shame that certain readers couldn’t have a little more empathy for others less fortunate.

      Just because I don’t feel we as a city should determine our city ordinances on the basis of how it might affect a few smoking homeless doesn’t mean I don’t have empathy for the less fortunate. Quit jumping to conclusions, you don’t know me.

  3. ryankelly

    It is not just the smoke.  It is the toxic litter that smokers leave behind.  UCD has banned all smoking on the UCD campus.  Do you really think that this is an issue of discrimination?

  4. PhilColeman

    To suggest that the expansion of our smoking regulations is, could be, maybe sorta, intended towards the homeless population seems like a real stretch. If we want (and who is “we”?) to poke a fork into the homeless population and encourage them to go somewhere else, there are other regulatory ordinance alternatives that would be far more effective.

    To say that this ordinance additionally protects non-smokers is equally implausible. Don’t we all walk by a homess person in a public place? Unless one chooses to stand real close to a homeless guy puffing away–and remain next to that stranger for a prolonged time–the personal health argument tends to go up in smoke.

    Back to “we.” I’d like to know exactly who it is that is giving energy to this idea. Taking the homeless notion away for a moment, I suspect that the real impetus is the visual blight and disgust non-smokers experience when we see any type of person self-destruct in front of us. As a life-long nonsmoker, I’ll admit to that feeling, but never was inspired to translate my biases into a law.

    Enforcement. Anticipate that were this ordinance to be passed into law, the enforcement record would be extremely small. And in every instance where it was enforced, charges of police harassment would surely follow. Is this ordinance really worth all that?

     

  5. Frankly

    But should the city go further?

    It is not the city, it is liberals and their “I can’t stop thinking of new ideas for me to feel powerful controlling the lives of everyone else.” obsession.

    “The detrimental effects of smoking are well-documented, as are the hazards posed by secondhand smoke. The United States Surgeon General, the California Legislature and the California Health and Safety Code find that tobacco smoke is a hazard to the health of the general public and involuntary smoking is a cause of disease, including lung cancer, in healthy nonsmokers.”

    Find a single study that prove that second hand smoke outside in the open air causes any health hazard greater than, for example, the dust that blows from farmed fields or the pollen in the air or the exhaust from the UCD buses, or, or, or, or, or.  You will NOT find it.

    So just stop.  Just stop taking away freedoms in you twisted liberal pursuit of unattainable utopia.

    And while you are frothing at the mouth from having read this, also think about the cost of your other demand to block peripheral development to cause hyper population density.  Most of what you complain about is your own making, and then you come up with another harebrained scheme to try and fit those problems, and you just create more… in a never-ending spiral downward in dystopia.

     

    1. hpierce

      Not sure I agree with your writing, but I may actually agee at a certain level… In an open space, if someone is hanging around me, smoking, where I need/want to be, I’d tell them “could you not smoke, or move elsewhere?  I am allergic. (and I happen to be)”.  If no favorable response, I might politely call them a jerk and rethink whether I needed to be in proximity.  No way in hell would I be thinking of making a ‘citizen’s arrest’, calling the cops, etc.  [Now, if they are beligerent, about their “right” to smoke in my proximity, I might use words and tone that would NOT be characterized as “polite”]

      1. Frankly

        Nothing irritates me more than those “progressive” others pushing for new rules to control my life and take away my freedoms for stupid and irrational reasons.  Incandescent bulb bans. Plastic bag bans.  Fireplace bans that will soon be BBQ bans.  Smoking bans which will soon be you cannot smoke in your own back yard.  I don’t smoke cigarettes, but I might smoke a cigar once in a blue moon… in my back yard with good bourbon and my lovely wife that has asthma and just sits so the smoke does not bother her.

        My neighbor runs her older and loud air conditioner well after it has cooled off at night and we get hear it out on our back patio.  It is the cost of living in a small-lot residential neighborhood that is the Davis standard.   It is the cost of freedom.  In liberal utopia I would concoct a new ordinance that says everyone needs to shut off their air conditioner by a certain time to help prevent man made global warming and because others have a right to listen to the crickets. 

        So, yes my tone is heated.   We have a city of nosy busy-bodies unable to control their obsession to try and control what everyone else does in their irrational pursuit of utopia.

        I get the point about being in close proximity to someone smoking.  I would have the same problem with that and with people having strong body odor or strong perfume.  So I move away from them.  Is it my right to tell them to move?  I can certainly ask.  But then I have chosen to live in this hyper-dense little city where I throw a fit and block new development and ignore the fact that Measure O money has been used for solely for the farmland preservation zealots and not a bit for resident access… and so I really am the one that made this bed and should not be able to complain having to sleep in it.

        1. Michelle Millet

          We have a city of nosy busy-bodies unable to control their obsession to try and control what everyone else does in their irrational pursuit of utopia.

          One might be able to argue that this, to paraphrase you, is the “cost”of living in Davis;-).

    2. Jim Frame

      It is not the city, it is liberals

      Apparently I wasn’t invited to the liberals meeting at which this was decided, but in any case it isn’t “liberals” who are introducing the ordinance, it is, in fact, the city.  Individuals or groups don’t introduce ordinances, only city staff and electeds get to do that.

      I haven’t formed an opinion on this matter, though I’m one of those particularly annoyed by cigarette smoke.  A recent trip to Europe and Scandinavia, though, made me aware of just how good we have it here.  They smoke like crazy over there, and it was hard to get away from it, even in restaurants.  They don’t allow smoking in restaurants, but they do allow it in the sidewalk “bars” outside the restaurants, and the smoke drifts into the buildings unabated.  It ruined more than one meal for us.

       

    3. Sam

      “Find a single study that prove that second hand smoke outside in the open air causes any health hazard greater than, for example, the dust that blows from farmed fields or the pollen in the air or the exhaust from the UCD buses, or, or, or, or, or.  You will NOT find it.”

      I don’t have a study to point to, but for me second hand smoke triggers an asthma attack, the other items you mentioned do not. It can be as easy as walking past  someone who is smoking on the sidewalk. So while I am all for someone having the right to smoke, it becomes a problem when I am unable to breathe properly.

  6. Anon

    I find it deliciously ironic that on the one hand there is a conspiracy theory put forth by the Vanguard that a no smoking ban in public places to keep our air clean is an attempt by the city to remove homeless from Davis; while at the same time having no such difficulty with the city enforcing a wood burning ordinance and plastic bag ban to keep the environment squeaky clean. You can’t have it both ways. I am generally not in favor of overregulation (I was not in favor of the wood burning ordinance or the plastic bag ban). But I do believe that the government, be it federal state or local, needs to be consistent. I think the city is trying to be consistent here.

      1. Anon

        You need to read the article more closely, DP.

        Are we effectively trying to ban homelessness in the city through this ordinance? Or if we are not doing so intentionally – are we not at the very least doing is as an unintended consequence?”

        There is a suggestion that there may be an INTENTIONAL component here of “trying to ban homelessness in the city”.

  7. gunrock

    Bravo City of Davis if it is their intent!  Good idea for an ordinance and if it has the added benefit of keeping the rapidly expanding mob of freeloaders out of downtown- so much the better. Anyone who “feels empathy” for these hobos simply hasn’t spent any time around them- or seen the MOUNDS of trash, stacks of stolen bikes and broken bottles surrounding their dumps.  The city is besieged by these mounds, but the people who “Feel” for the homeless never get out of their minivans and go look beyone the greenbelt to see what they are doing around our town…

  8. Jim Frame

    these hobos

    I suggest wiping the spittle from your face and revising your tirade to conform with the original definition of the term “hobo” (phonetic spelling of the southernized “hoe boy”).  A hobo travels and works (e.g. hoes weeds in an ag crop); a tramp travels but doesn’t work; and a bum neither travels nor works.

     

  9. davisite4

    A compromise would be to ban smoking in relatively small public spaces, like E Street Plaza — where, for example, one might be eating dinner outside only to find oneself engulfed by cigarette smoke (and not able to leave without abandoning one’s already ordered dinner).  That would still allow homeless people and others to smoke in larger areas in parks and greenbelts.

    1. Barack Palin

      I’d hate to be a smoker in Davis.  One isn’t going to have a clue where one can or can’t smoke.  I can see it now, no smoking signs being placed all around the city.  That will add to the ambiance.

  10. Napoleon Pig IV

    The notion that any smoker, rich or poor, has an inherent “right” to smoke anywhere remotely near another living thing is absurd.

    The notion that we need any more laws of any kind, or even continued full-time employment of politicians, is equally absurd. Oink!

  11. Topcat

    I don’t have an opinion on the proposed ordinance.

    My thought is that smoking is a very expensive habit.  Not that it’s any of my business, but wouldn’t it be better for a homeless person to use the money they are spending on cigarettes to improve their lives?

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