In 1998, when California’s ban on smoking in virtually all indoor workplaces took full effect, the idea of forcing all bars and restaurants to be smoke-free still seemed strange. Since then about 20 other states have adopted similar restrictions, including three—Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio—that did so via ballot initiatives last November. (Some of the bans exempt bars and/or gambling areas.) Now California is leading the way again with smoking bans that cover outdoor locations and even private residences.
Last year Calabasas, a Los Angeles suburb, declared itself “Clean Air Calabasas, a Smoke-Free City” as it banned smoking just about everywhere outdoors, including patio seating of bars and restaurants. Now Belmont, a town near San Francisco, has decided to make Calabasas look tolerant with an ordinance that will ban smoking everywhere except in detached, single-family homes and (possibly) cars. Since the Calabasas model already has been copied—by Santa Rosa, Dublin, and Marin County, among other places—it seems safe to predict that Belmont also will inspire imitators.
“We’re not trying to be draconian,” Belmont City Councilman Dave Warden told Inside Bay Area in November. Warden, a moderate by Belmont standards, favored an exception for cars, because “I don’t want to punish people who are driving into town who may not be familiar with the local smoking ordinance.”
The official rationale for the bans is that a few stray molecules of secondhand smoke might give you a heart attack or lung cancer. But another, more plausible motive also was expressed. “We need to encourage less and less people to smoke,” said Marin County Supervisor Cynthia Murray. “Anytime we can prevent smoking,” said an American Cancer Society spokeswoman regarding Belmont’s pending ban, “that’s always a victory.”