Put the Belmont Ban in Your Pipe and Smoke It!


BELMONT, Calif.—During her 50 years of smoking, Edith Frederickson says, she has lit up in restaurants and bars, airplanes and trains, and indoors and out, all as part of a two-pack-a-day habit that she regrets not a bit. But as of two weeks ago, Ms. Frederickson can no longer smoke in the one place she loves the most: her home.

Ms. Frederickson lives in an apartment in Belmont, Calif., a quiet Silicon Valley city that is now home to perhaps the nation's strictest antismoking law, effectively outlawing lighting up in all apartment buildings.

"I'm absolutely outraged," said Ms. Frederickson, 72, pulling on a Winston as she sat on a concrete slab outside her single-room apartment. "They're telling you how to live and what to do, and they're doing it right here in America."

That from a New York Times account of the first weeks of most draconian (draconianest?) smoking ban in the country. The Times sympathetically portrays not just Edith F. above but also the guy who got the smoking ban ball rolling (yes, a mixed metaphor!), 84-year-old Ray Goodrich, who says that second-hand smoke "gave me an instant headache, kind of like an iron band around the head…I could be sitting and have the air filters going, which eliminated the visible smoke, but the smoke was still there." I hate smoking more than the next person and have chosen in the past not to rent in buildings redolent of memories of ash past, but that sort of hyper-sensitivity strikes me as more about the smeller and less about the smoker. In any case, Goodrich started a letter-writing campaign that culminated in the law being passed in 2007 and implemented on January 9 of this year.

"We need your help," read one of Mr. Goodrich's letters in July 2006. "A barking dog disturbs our sleep but will not kill us. Secondhand smoke is killing us."

Whole Times account here.

As a matter of science, Goodrich is wrong; smoking is about the worst thing you can do for yourself, but secondhand smoke, especially the sort talked about above, is not killing people. And as a matter of precedent, the Belmont smoking ban is a nanny state measure on steroids (not that there's necessarily anything wrong with steroids, but you know what I mean). Second smoke is not the equivalent of shooting a gun through a wall (as a council member argued during discussions about the ban). More important, even if secondhand smoke were clearly linked to death as Goodrich supposes, that doesn't mean that all places everywhere need to ban it. Landlords and condo complexes in the town had already figured out a way to accomodate smokers and non-smokers by letting buildings go one way or another. Isn't it a superior solution to leave individuals with more choices rather than fewer? Why force a single model everywhere by law?

Reason has been reporting on the Belmont ban for a long time. Click below to watch "Just Can't Quit: How far will smoking bans go?," which we released last October and details the Belmont case (and features the most hilarious "for the children!" moment outside of The Simpsons). And go here for embed code, downloadable versions, and links to Reason's coverage of the nanny state and smoking.