WatchSonoma Watch

Sonoma County takes aim at smokers


Sonoma County is considering banning smoking in apartments and condominiums, on county-owned property, in parks, campgrounds and beaches and at many other outdoor public and private areas where people gather.

The ordinance, which seeks to reduce the effects of second-hand smoke, would affect all areas of the county outside city limits and prohibit smoking at public events, such as fairs, festivals, parades, outdoor dining areas and service areas, such as ATMs, bank teller windows, telephones, ticket lines, bus stops and taxi stands.

“There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke,” said Lynn Walton, manager of the Healthy Communities section of the Sonoma County Public Health Division.

“It is a toxic chemical, a Class-A carcinogen. That’s why the (proposed) ordinance has the strong protections and provisions that it does.”

The new rules, if approved by the county Board of Supervisors, would represent some of the strongest smoking restrictions in the county, on par with restrictions in Sebastopol and Rohnert Park.

Sonoma County’s 1994 smoking ordinance received an F as an overall tobacco-control grade from the American Lung Association.

At the time, the ordinance was similar to rules adopted in every city or town, except for Windsor and Cloverdale. It bans smoking in public workplaces and public areas.

In late 1994, after voters defeated a state initiative backed by Phillip Morris that sought to rein in smoking bans, a statewide restriction on workplace and restaurant smoking took effect Jan. 1, 1995. Three years later,  the state banned smoking in bars.

“We have essentially been denying 85 percent of the population that doesn’t smoke the right to breathe clean air in public places and in their own homes too,” county Supervisor Shirlee Zane said.

She said the proposed changes to the smoking ordinance are long overdue. The effect on the county administration complex in Santa Rosa, where 3,500 people work, would be significant, she said.

“Making it a no-smoking campus is really important,” she said.

With so few people smoking these days, some say the ordinance is a sign of the times.

Jerry Fischman, owner of Birmingham Bed & Breakfast in Kenwood, said his business has a strict no-smoking policy that 99 percent of his lodgers either agree with or accept. He has a small smoking area near a tree toward the front of the property.

“I’m all for it,” said Fischman, who described himself as a “life-long non-smoker.”

Under the new rules, smoking on county property and unincorporated parts of the county and in multi-unit housing would be allowed only in specifically designated areas. These restricted areas would have to be at least 25 feet from an operating doorway, window, vent, recreation areas used by children, playgrounds, tennis courts, pools and other recreational areas.

The ordinance also would ban smoking at public events, including fairs, festivals, parades and farmer’s markets. The Sonoma County Fair already has a no-smoking policy, except for designated areas.

Many county regional parks, such as Hood Mountain, have smoking restrictions because of fire danger, and all nine county playground have a buffer zone around them.

Deanna Allen, 21, of Santa Rosa was smoking near the entrance to the Sonoma County Jail at the county administration complex. Allen, who was there visiting her fiancé, said the new rules were far to restrictive.

“Here especially, they’re going to have issues,” Allen said. “You’ve got, especially like Thursday mornings … there’s like 100 people walking around here, people getting out of jail, people about to turn themselves into jail … people visiting and and they’re just wanting a damn cigarette.”

Stephanie Hoobler, 27, of Cotati who shared a cigarette with Allen, called the restrictions a contradiction.

“Then stop selling cigarettes altogether because it’s not fair,” she said.

County supervisors said they want the health services department to do more outreach with landlords and members of the community before the issue comes before the board Sept. 13.

If approved then, most provisions would go into effect Nov. 12. Restrictions on new multi-housing units would take effect May 12, 2012. And restrictions on existing multi-housing units would go into effect Jan. 12, 2013.

Charlene Harrison of Santa Rosa, a courtroom clerk and former smoker, said she agreed with many of the proposed restrictions, particularly where children are present. But Harrison, who quit smoking four years ago, said she sympathized with smokers.

“It seems a little too strict for me, if I was still smoking,” she said. “If I was a smoker and I wanted to go out to the parking lot and have a cigarette, I would want to be able to do that.”

Michelle House of the Northern California Center for Well Being, a strong advocate of the multi-unit housing restrictions, said she hopes the proposed county ordinance will set an example for cities that have yet to tackle secondhand smoke in apartment buildings.

Only Rohnert Park and Sebastopol have enacted such restrictions. The Sebastopol ordinance takes effect Nov. 1.

“If we are protected in our workplace, should we not be protected where we live?” said House.

31 Responses to “Sonoma County takes aim at smokers”

  1. Lisa says:

    If this country sucks then MOVE!!!! I had to live with my parents who smoked. It killed my Dad. He had COPD and had a massive heart attack and would have died if he weren’t in a hospital at the time. He died two years later. It’s MY RIGHT NOT TO DIE FROM YOUR SMOKING!!!! I have been in a cloud of smoke and it is like the smog in LA!! Try to breath that! It is about time the non-smokers took over after all the years of self-imposed rightous behavior on the part of smokers. If you want to kill yourself fine, but don’t take me with you!

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  2. Mike says:

    The biggest smoke blowers are the local politicans in Sonoma County. Lets start by banning them? They pose a larger threat to society than a few smokers.

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  3. Common Sense says:

    After reading alot of these comments, I must say, I’m a little surprised this is such a big deal. I’ve never smoked, but have had friends who do and I’ve lived above a smoker before, and not once have I ever had to walk through clouds of smoke. This really seems like a non-issue. Most businesses have already limited or excluded smokers, or have smoking areas separate. Most government/public areas already ban smoking. I can honestly say, I’ve never encountered a smoker who didn’t put it out when they encountered me or my child. While I’m sure there are some rude smokers out there, since most smoking areas are kept so separate from ohters, you really have to go out of your way to encounter them. I work at the County complex and even around the jail at lunch time, I’ve never encountered a cloud of smoke. Don’t we have some real issues (jobs, debt) to deal with here???

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  4. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Bear, you aren’t the only one to equate smoking with drinking and obesity. An alcohol drinker or drug addict can certainly drive and kill someone. But someone drinking a drink at the next table to yours at dinner, or an obese person eating cake does not interfere or harm YOUR health. Second hand smoke is harmful to everyone, but especially to children.

    I understand it is a terrible addiction. I’m sorry for that. But is needs to be kept to yourself.

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  5. RB says:

    Smoker’s rights end at the tip of their cigarette – if no one else can smell your smoke – have at it. The studies show that this distance is 25 feet, and that’s why the laws support this.

    Both the EPA and the Surgeon General have named cigarette smoke as a class A carcinogen – there is no level of exposure that does not increase the risk of cancer. I challenge any tobacco company hacks to find evidence otherwise!

    This is a public health issue, that benefits the 85% of the community that doesn’t smoke – including pregnant women, infants, children, and the elderly.

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  6. Jason Valez says:

    First smoking, then eating fatty and sugary foods, then eating red meat, then, oh no, ALCOHOL. Oh, I forgot we already tried that. Get off our backs and stop bothering us with all your nanny laws. Go back and read the Constitution instead of the Communist Manifesto. This county sucks.

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  7. Chief Looking Left says:

    Blame the Indians. They gave tobacco to the white men (and women) who were just trying to bring civilization to this troubled land.

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  8. Josh Stevens says:

    As a 21-year former smoker I can say that quitting was the best choice I’ve ever made FOR MYSELF.I have the utmost empathy for anyone who still suffers from a nicotine addiction,or any other.

    However,smoke is hard to control and is terribly invasive to non-smokers and we should err on the side of the non-addicted.

    In my somewhat humble opinion.

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  9. Joyce Garcia says:

    @ Dan Delgado, as a smoker I take great offense to your use of words and over exaggerated view of what is obviously offensive to you. To categorize smokers as either “so lazy, weak or arrogant” is weak and arrogant. For the last 5 years or so, it’s clear that smokers are looked down upon and are huddled off to the side of a building, or off in a corner of a park or the beach where there are very few, if any people at all, so not to offend people. Sure, you’ll get your occasional rude smoker, but most smokers including myself, will purposely go to secluded or designated areas (and those are getting more scarce as the years go on) and it’s still not good enough for some. There’s been quite a few times people walked to the area I was at to make me feel like I was doing something wrong….NOPE!
    Sorry Dan….I doubt very much you have to navigate your way through clouds of cigarette smoke as you go about your day….smoke goes up first of all and shame on you if you feel the need to go out of your way to make a smoker feel bad while occasionally smoking cigars.

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  10. bear says:

    I think we both remember the days when doctors advertised tobacco on TV. Haven’t we come a very long way from that? The workers you mention are now protected.

    I certainly have no problem with apartment owners and condo associations making their own rules. Hotels do it now as a marketing thing.

    The logical conclusion of your reasoning is complete prohibition. That hasn’t worked with other drugs, and I can promise you it wouldn’t work with tobacco.

    So what is the reasonable compromise? You didn’t address a lot of my points. No County employees allowed to be smokers of anything? No alcohol drinkers? No overweight people?

    Give smokers a place where they can indulge without harming others – what’s wrong with that? Keep ashtrays available to avoid the litter? Scorn smokers of anything in your personal life? No problem here. Though it might be more helpful to guide smokers away from their habits with your positive influence, rather than rejecting them as people automatically?

    The core problem is that prohibition of anything is either unenforceable or can only be enforced at great expense. How much for the “war on drugs?” How much success?

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  11. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Bear-I normally agree with you, but not on this.

    I wonder how you feel about all those restaurant and bar workers who worked when cigarettes weren’t banned. I wonder how many of them have cancer or COPD and other ills because of their work experience.

    This is the reason for the ban. To protect others. If all smokers were polite, didn’t pollute, then what they do with their lives is their business. When they openly inflict their vice on others, that’s a problem.

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  12. Kirstin says:

    @freethinker, do you really need more proof that smoking (first-hand and second-hand) are hazardous to health? http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/cessation

    As a non-smoker, I accept the right of people to smoke if they choose, although I think it is a mistake for anyone to do so. However, if people smoke where it affects others who don’t, their rights no longer take precedence. For instance, the “right” to smoke in one’s own home has to be tempered by the fact that some homes are not detached from other homes; i.e., apartments. Smoke goes through cracks and whole walls and can be inhaled by neighbors who are doing nothing more than minding their own business in *their* own homes.

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  13. bear says:

    This makes three times in a row that I’ve agreed with you!
    What are we going to do, have a phone line to report illegal tobacco smoking? And send the sheriffs out to write a ticket? Does the ordinance cover medical marijuana, too?
    And someone above is also right – are we going to return all tobacco tax money to the state?
    Time to make drinking at home illegal too? The wine industry would love it! We could then refuse to accept alcohol taxes – and force drinking into bars so people have to drive to drink.
    Then we could move right along to overweight people.
    As the economy stalls out, the only excuse for this that I can imagine is an out-of-control Health Department, a County Administrator who is asleep at the wheel, and a Board of Supervisors that wants to look foolish and inexperienced.
    @Mockingbird – there is no reason why your building should be in the condition you describe. I think smokers want to be polite if reasonable accomodations are made for them. The County Center has not done well at this, so they’ve created conditions that lead to extremist positions. Otherwise, what you’re really saying is that smokers can’t be County employees and can’t live in apartments or condos?

    At the same time, anyone who smokes around kids should be discouraged. But kids probably get more pollutants from diesel trucks than smokers – and more chemicals from the water supply.

    Let’s have some priorities, please?

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  14. GAJ says:

    What next.

    Ban your neighbor’s BBQ or Meat Smoker?

    Ban your neighbor’s fireplace?

    Ban your neighbor’s lawnmower?

    Ban your neighbor’s motorcycle?

    Ban your neighbor’s car?

    These are all legal products that produce smoke at least as dangerous as cigarette smoke.

    I encounter very few “rude” smokers out there who are inconsiderate of others.

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  15. freethinker says:

    I actually do not care if a person lights up in public in front of me. Its simple…I MOVE!

    Now, if you are on a private property such as a restaurant that does not allow smoking, then you may get a mouthful from me such you decide to disregard the rules. After all, it’s like with people who don’t let you light up in their car, private entities are entitled as well, right?

    This is where the trade off comes. I would prefer if smokers not light up in public, but in an open area where the public roams or in their own homes, they are entitled to that and we can simply walk away.
    But to continue to put smokers in this box can also be detrimental.
    I think no action on this matter should be taken until the government on a federal level can declare and prove that smoking and second-hand smoke are detrimental to human health, therefore, making it fair for tobacco to be placed in the same category as alcohol and other drugs. By this I mean, if second hand smoke in particular can be really proven to cause health problems, then it would also be fair to place cigarette smoking right along with drinking in public. But since no decision like that has been made yet, out of fairness, we should live and let puff in the open.
    Nothing much to it.

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  16. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Smokers aren’t a new minority. They’re just addicted. They inflict their habit on others even knowing that it’s harmful. They smoke around their kids, even the ones with lung diseases. Smoke while pregnant. Even those smokers who wouldn’t dream of throwing a candy wrapper on the ground, grind their cigarettes out and leave them to trash up pretty much everywhere. The building where I work is littered with stubs all around it. Nasty.

    I’m a lifelong nonsmoker. Never could abide being around smokers because they smell. Sorry, smokers, but that’s the truth.

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  17. Kim says:

    Well Dan, I’m offended when you pass gas. It creats greenhouse gasses and it smells. I’m also offended by the exhaust from your vehicle as it spews out more carcinogen than a smoker’s cigarette.

    Be very careful, soon as they get rid of cigarette smoking next is over weight people. Over weight people have to be treated for diabetes, hypertension and other ailments that can be prevented yet pose a big burden on society through higher medical costs. Why wait? Lets go after them NOW. The sooner we corral all these obese people and send them to a County “Fat Farm” the less the rest of us will have to pay for health insurance.

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  18. Ashley says:

    Sorry, even though the law may seem a little strict, I agree with it for the most part. I suffer from migraines, and cigarette smoke is a HUGE trigger. I don’t enjoy going somewhere, a public place, and getting a migraine just because you chose to continue your bad habit and smoke cigarettes. So if I decide to go to a park, the beach, the fair, or any other public place/function, I’d prefer not to have my entire day ruined, because of cigarette smoke. I don’t care if people smoke in their own car, or house, because that’s their own property, but just as long as other people aren’t exposed to it. But, I certainly don’t agree with anyone smoking around where kids are present, even if it is in your own home.

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  19. Dan Delgado says:

    Normally I might agree with you folks, but on this issue we part company. There is nothing more noxious than navigating through clouds of cigarette smoke as I go about my day. It’s as if someone sprays a cloud of pesticide in my path. If you smokers out there were not either so lazy, weak or arrogant (you choose) to take your habit away from the rest of us, there would be no need for such laws. It is your own disregard for your fellow man that creates the need for these enactments. Blame yourself, you brought it on. The whole notion of “smokers’ rights” is a farce created by those who either profit from the sale of cigarettes or seek to continue inflicting their particular vice on the rest of us. Personal rights end when you infringe on the rights of others. Smokers are not a class desering of any rights. Smoking is a voluntary activity, not a condition. And it is that activity that is regulated, not the individual, a fact smoking advocates conveniently ignore.

    I don’t care if you smoke so long the effect of your activity is limited to those similarly inclined. I myself enjoy a cigar once in a while, but only when in like company and at a venue where others are not effected. But I do care when I am forced to breathe your toxic fumes just because you lack the common sense and decency to remove yourself from populated areas when engaging in an activity so vile.

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  20. JL says:

    I’m not sure that interviewing smokers waiting outside the jail, and relaying he “fact” that people are visiting prisoners, or waiting to be released or locked up, so it’s a huge inconvenience, is the best place to base this story…..

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  21. Steve Klausner says:

    Bet they’ll include an exception for medical marijuana.

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  22. sheryl says:

    Ok Sonoma County, give back every dime of taxes you collect on cigarettes. When you do that, maybe you can tell me what I can and can’t do in my own home.

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  23. Pearl Alquileres says:

    Nannys gone wild!

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  24. Greg Karraker says:

    Banning smoking is only a partial solution. Clearly, smoking is a stupid habit, so the better legislation would be to outlaw stupid. This would have the added benefit of removing almost every elected and appointed Sonoma County official.

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  25. John bly says:

    Have we learned nothing? We do not need government to tell us where we can and cannot smoke. Less regulations, not more.

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  26. Fiscal Conservative says:

    So the board of supervisors will regulate with nanny state restrictions, while they ignore $2.2 Billion plus interest in unfunded pension liabilities.

    I think they should fix the real problems rather than creating new ones.

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  27. The Hammer says:

    Ban cigarettes but legalize marijuana? I’m confused.

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  28. Reality Check says:

    One would then hope the county will decline all state and federal tobacco tax money. Benefiting from smoking should be the last thing Sonoma County wants to do.

    Unpleasant fact: government reaps 10 to 20 times the money from each pack of cigarettes as any tobacco company.

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  29. Skippy says:

    The hypocrisy of Big Govt. is staggering.
    They collect billions in taxes at the federal and state level, then legislate to alienate and marginalize smokers by law.
    Smokers belong to a new breed of citizens, the kind that can be publicly shamed and ridiculed. An “unprotected” class.
    If any other minority were so treated, there would be civil rights attorneys filing in every courthouse in the land.
    If Big Govt. really wanted us to stop smoking, they could ban the production and sale of it today. Try getting that one through the Congress.
    These Jim Crow tobacco ordinances are simply the elites punishing the peasants for being so gauche.
    Resist; light up; enjoy yourself.
    Responsibly and outdoors; always considerate of those nearby, of course.

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  30. Joyce Garcia says:

    My rights as a smoker are being violated?! What’s new?

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  31. J.R. Wirth says:

    Man, the busy bodies are in overdrive in this county.

    “There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke,” said Lynn Walton, manager of the Healthy Communities section of the Sonoma County Public Health Division.”

    Actually Lynn, you give me a study that proves this and I’ll give you one right back that knocks it down.

    This county is full of a bunch of tea toddling Victorians who get the vapors every time they see someone with a cigarette or who use plastic grocery bags.

    The best way to deal with this is take a page from Sharon Stone in that famous line from Basic Instinct. “What are you going to do, arrest me for smoking?”

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