Last night KGO, the San Francisco news station, interviewed me about an ordinance the city of Belmont is considering that would ban smoking everywhere except in private cars and detached single-family homes. This would be the most sweeping smoking ban in California, which is saying a lot, and it is based on astonishing misinformation about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
A councilman who was quoted in the news segment that preceded my interview mentioned in passing that exposure to secondhand smoke is just as bad for you as smoking, which I guess means that smoking poses hardly any risk at all. The councilman who was on with me, Warren Lieberman (who is what passes for a smoking ban skeptic on Belmont's city council) kept saying that further restrictions seem necessary in light of warnings from federal and state regulators that tobacco smoke contains dangerous chemicals. No kidding. As I emphasized, that much has been clear for at least half a century. The question is what dose of these chemicals poses a risk that is worth worrying about. Since it's hard to measure a risk even from long-term, relatively intense exposure to secondhand smoke, the concern about the occasional whiff from a restaurant's outdoor seating or from the smoker in the apartment next to yours is absurd. In any case, if spillover is the real concern, why did the state ban smoking inside bars and restaurants that no one is forced to enter?