Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: Where there’s smoke, it’s not San Rafael

By From page A2 | December 04, 2013

Davis’ reputation as the leader of All Things Right and Relevant took another hit late last month when the city of San Rafael openly bragged that its new smoking ordinance was the strictest in the nation.

Please, someone alert Dan and Joe and Rochelle and Brett and Lucas and tell them to do something pronto before the “Today” show and others like it decide that Marin County and not Davis is the cutting edge for new and innovative programs.

Basically, the ordinance takes the extraordinary step of prohibiting the smoking of cigarettes in your own home if that home shares a wall with another residence.

Thus, once again, folks capable of owning a detached, single-family home are in the clear when it comes to doing whatever they damn well please once the curtains are drawn. But those generally lower-income residents who have fewer housing options will feel the hot breath of Big Brother on their neck.

“I’m not aware of any ordinance that’s stronger,” crowed San Rafael city official Rebecca Woodbury to ABC News. “It doesn’t matter if it’s owner-occupied or renter-occupied. We didn’t want to discriminate. The distinguishing feature is the shared wall.”

As much as Woodbury may cite the “non-discriminatory” nature of the ordinance, it most definitely discriminates based on one’s housing. Put simply, some residents of San Rafael will be allowed to smoke up a storm in the privacy of their living rooms while other residents of San Rafael will be strictly forbidden from smoking in the privacy of their living rooms. And in most cases, the main difference between these two groups of residents will be income level.

It’s like saying those who own a Mercedes or a BMW can drive 35 mph while those who own a Ford or a Chevy can drive only 25 mph.

On the flip side of this, of course, one can argue that low-income people who abhor the stench of cigarette smoke but can’t afford a detached home away from their three-pack-a-day neighbor on the other side of the wall, will now finally have a measure of relief.

It’s a classic case of the so-called “common good” versus the rights of the individual, with the wealth of the individual generally the deciding factor over who gets those rights and who doesn’t.

Closer to home, Sac State soon may follow UC Davis’ lead and ban tobacco products everywhere on campus.

While regular cigarette smoking has been decisively proven to be one of the most damaging activities possible to one’s health, these bans more often than not are aimed at the secondhand smoke that reaches the lungs of non-smokers.

While some folks would like to ban cigarettes in all instances, most of us are willing to allow folks to exercise the right to kill themselves in this fashion as long as they don’t take the rest of us along to the grave with them.

Anyone who has lived with — or in close proximity to — a smoker knows just how insidious tobacco smoke is, creeping as it does under doors, inside vents and through open windows.

The issues here are much different from the debate many cities have over the occasional burning of firewood on days when the EPA says environmental conditions make it safe to do so. Rare is the smoker who lights up a cigarette only on Christmas Eve or the first day of winter. Also rare is the smoker who lights up just once a day for a few minutes.

Banning smoking in closed spaces, such as restaurants, bars, classrooms and airplanes is just common sense.

But given that a significant, if declining, number of people in our society still choose to smoke, I wouldn’t object if a strictly limited number of restaurants or bars were allowed to permit smoking — no kids allowed on the premises — with proper warnings to the public. If you don’t like cigarette smoke, don’t eat or drink here.

Again, the number of such establishments allowed should be minimal, but enough to allow smokers to get together and enjoy their guilty pleasure at someplace other than a tightly sealed closet.

Most smokers I know are respectful and courteous when they indulge in their death-inducing habit. If we can accommodate them without compromising the health and comfort of everyone else, all the better.

Until then, San Rafael’s new ordinance bears watching.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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