Palo Alto continued its crusade against cigarette smoke this week by expanding its existing ban to commercial districts, though the City Council also decided that it needs more time to consider whether e-cigarettes should also be covered by the new law.
The new ban, which the City Council unanimously approved early Tuesday, applies to areas zoned "regional commercial," including Stanford Shopping Center, Town & Country Village, downtown and California Avenue. It also includes "neighborhood commercial" sites such as Alma Village.
Smoking will now be prohibited at all publicly owned sidewalks, alleys, parking areas, public places, outdoor dining areas and service areas in these districts.
This week's action is the just the latest step in the council's two-year effort to curb smoking. At prior meetings, staff and council have argued that cigarette smoking is both a health hazard and an environmental issue.
The ordinance states that the new restrictions are intended to "protect the public health, safety and general welfare" and to "ensure a cleaner and more hygienic environment within the city, reduce litter, and protect the City's natural resources, including creeks and streams."
Last year, the council unanimously banned smoking at local parks and open-space preserves, as well as within 25 feet of entrances or exits to enclosed public spaces.
Like prior proposals to impose new smoking restrictions, the Monday decision was reached swiftly and with no dissent. The council generally agreed with Vice Mayor Liz Kniss' position that "banning smoking is self-explanatory."
The only issue of disagreement came over e-cigarettes. While members generally agreed that these devices are harmful, they signaled that they would like to further explore their effects before including them in the ban.
Larry Klein was the only council member to urge including e-cigarettes in the new ordinance.
"I think it's a mistake to exclude e-cigarettes," Klein said. "I think the case is there."
Given the harm nicotine has done in our society, Klein said, the council should "err on the side of excluding" e-cigarettes.
After Klein's suggestion to include e-cigarettes failed, the council unanimously voted to support Councilman Pat Burt's proposal to include all the proposed restrictions except e-cigarettes, which will be considered at a later date. But even as they agreed no to adopt a ban on e-cigarettes at this time, members signaled that it might just be a matter of time before that step is taken.
"The evidence seems to show that there is a dangerous trend of more youths thinking that smoking is cool because of the use of e-cigarettes," Councilman Marc Berman said. "I think it's a dangerous trend."