No-Smoking Zones in San Francisco May Expand

Legislation was introduced this month that would prohibit smoking in public spaces, spaces such as farmers’ markets, outdoor seating areas of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops, and common areas of multiunit housing complexes. Smoking would also be banned from entrances, exits, and windows and vents of all buildings, while waiting in lines at ATMs, theaters, athletic events, concert venues and cab stands. Smoking would be allowed at the curb of sidewalks, streets and alleys. And if there is no curb, then smoking would be prohibited within 15 feet of entrances or exits. Also, smoking would be allowed at least 20 feet from transit shelters, boarding areas and ticket lines. Under the legislation, smokers who break the rules would face a $100 fine for the first offence and up to $500 for multiple offenses. All of these provisions have been introduced to protect residents from second hand smoke.

No one will deny that secondhand smoke is harmful . A recent report put out by the Institute of Medicine has confirmed that exposure to secondhand smoke is a significant cause of heart attacks among nonsmokers and that relatively brief exposure to second hand smoke can cause acute coronary events. And the CDC declares that, in addition to protecting people from secondhand smoke, smoke-free laws also help decrease cigarette consumption rates. If the ban passes, the tobacco industry and some businesses will probably challenge the ban, over fears of losing customers.

Here at the Brod Law Firm, we believe smoking bans are good for both smokers and non-smokers. But we wonder, if the legislation passes–and it probably will, as public support, awareness and implementation of similar bans is on the rise in cities around the globe– how city officials will enforce the law? Will heavy fines be enough of a deterrent? We are guessing that enforcement will be driven by complaints made to the police (it is hard to imagine health officials hiring smoking patrols). More than likely, though, the pesky cigarette and smoker will be gone by the time they receive a call or before they have a chance to respond. So it seems a more formalized system of enforcement would still be needed, especially with provisions that have specific distance requirements, such as 20 feet from a bus shelter. What if a smoker is smoking 20 feet and one inch from a bus shelter or only 19 feet? How will anyone know the difference? Will the police start carrying measuring tapes? Plus, there are no guarantees that smoke will completely dissipate once it has lingered up to a distance of 20 feet. Smoke that lingers toward a bus shelter from 19 feet away will not know, under the new law, it is only allowed one more foot. And besides, everyone knows smoke does not have feelings or care if it breaks the law.