From local parks and nature preserves to business districts, shopping centers and outdoor dining tables, Palo Alto's smoking ban is quickly spreading.
The city is considering dramatically expanding its ban on cigarette use from an extension made last August to include parks, open-space preserves and the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course. The latest proposal, which the City Council's Policy and Services Committee enthusiastically endorsed Tuesday night, would ban smoking downtown, on California Avenue, at large commercial areas such as Stanford Shopping Center and "neighborhood commercial" centers such as Alma Plaza. In addition, smoking would be illegal at all outdoor eating areas. Currently, at least half of the outdoor area in a given establishment must be smoke-free.
The committee's discussion Tuesday closely mirrored prior hearings on smoking bans: a very brief debate followed by a proposal to take things a step or two further than previously planned and enthusiastic approval. The three committee members -- Chair Gail Price, Larry Klein and Greg Scharff -- backed the expanded list of no-smoking areas and voiced support for spreading the ban to apartment buildings in the near future.
By a 3-0 vote (the fourth member, Greg Schmid, was absent), the committee directed staff to consider ways to reach out to local apartment-building owners to discuss the potential ban. Immediately after that, the committee voted 2-1, with Klein dissenting, to also include in this restriction condominium complexes in which units share a ventilation system and residents can thus be vulnerable to second-hand smoke.
In supporting the broad ban, Klein admitted a bias against smoking. His father, a smoker, died at 57 of colon cancer (cigarette smoke has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer). Klein also proposed including e-cigarettes in the ban, an idea that both of his colleagues supported.
Klein was less concerned about the fact that the city received a "D" rating from the American Lung Association for its anti-smoking laws, a grade that staff hopes to see change with the new bans. Most cities have C's and D's, he said, which suggests that "the teacher isn't teaching."
"We have seen a substantial reduction in the number of people smoking," Klein said. "That would be my test. How many people in Palo Alto are smoking? The answer, in walking downtown on University Avenue or California Avenue, is that it's a pretty small number. To say we're failing in this seems to be sort of a scare tactic."
Scharff also endorsed staff's proposal to ban smoking at major commercial districts. He was one of four council members, along with Price, Nancy Shepherd and Karen Holman, to call for new smoking restrictions downtown and around California Avenue. In August 2013, the four council members penned a memo in which they noted the health impacts of second-hand smoke and proposed banning it near businesses.
"Smokers tend to congregate in front of entrances, causing ingress and egress issues. Smoke filters into buildings; and cigarette butts litter the sidewalks, planters and other visible public areas," the memo stated. "Business owners with outdoor dining areas are also affected as secondhand smoke drifts to outdoor eating areas, negatively affecting their customers' dining experience and potentially creating negative health impacts."
Scharff also suggested taking a look at banning smoking at multi-family buildings. This would apply to both rental units and condominiums. Klein supported banning smoking in the former but not the latter, noting that condominium associations already have the power to set such rules. Price disagreed and argued that the city should apply the same standards to both categories.
"They all have attached-house circumstances and they all have issues with smoke in ventilation, smoking going through the system," Price said. "I'm not sure it's appropriate to make that distinction."
Price also urged staff to include on the city's website information about quitting smoking.
If the council approves the committee's recommendation, an ordinance banning smoking at major commercial districts could be in place this fall. So far, the proposal has not attracted any public opposition. The only two speakers who addressed the council on the topic on Tuesday both lauded the staff proposal and encouraged the committee to adopt it. Trish Mulvay said she supports all the staff recommendations and asked the committee to also consider smoking-cessation programs.
Allison Chan, the Clean Bay campaign manager for Save the Bay, also praised the city for targeting entire zone districts for smoking bans rather than designated areas like sidewalks. Walnut Creek recently took a similar approach, she said.
"It makes it that much clearer that when you're within these bounds, there's no smoking whether you're on a sidewalk or on curbs or wherever," Chan said.