Better solution needed for public smoking | February 24, 2012 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Opinion - February 24, 2012

Better solution needed for public smoking

Last week the City Council missed an opportunity to find a way to allow smoking in certain well-protected areas of local bars and still insulate employees from second-hand smoke.

Instead, a new ordinance that passed on a 4-3 vote will bring more pain to smokers who like to hang out at local pubs and grab a smoke on their back patio, smokers who incidentally pump a lot of business into the local economy.

The ordinance barely passed on its first reading a few weeks ago, and now will go into effect in 90 days. No council member changed their vote despite a concerted effort by Jim Neal, a cigar-smoking patron of Molly McGee's on Castro Street, who collected more than 1,000 signatures from people against the stricter ordinance, mostly patrons of local bars.

Several bar owners said at the meeting that they have had few complaints from customers about second-hand smoke coming from the "smoking area" patios that many bars like Molly McGee's and the Sport Page on Shoreline Boulevard have developed to give smokers a place to light up. Under the new law, there will be no more smoking patios, and smokers will have to stay at least 25 feet away from the doorway of any place where smoking is already banned. On Castro Street, the law will effectively end smoking altogether and force anyone wishing to light up to head into the back parking lots, where opponents say more non-smokers are likely to encounter second-hand smoke.

No one disputes that there is plenty of evidence that smoking or breathing second-hand smoke is hazardous to one's health, but just the same, there are many residents and visitors who like Mountain View and come here to enjoy an alcoholic beverage and yes, smoke cigarettes or cigars. And those are the patrons that bar owners feel they will lose to other communities if the ordinance takes effect in 90 days as scheduled.

Rather than refusing to listen to the other side, as the council majority seemed to do at the Feb. 14 meeting, we suggest the council direct staff to craft an ordinance that would allow limited smoking on patios, but protect employees from second-hand smoke. Here are some possible scenarios:

• Control second hand smoke on patios with barriers (or even a hermetically sealed room) and powerful smoke-eating devices that can clear the air rapidly.

• Make smoking patios self-serve and off-limits to employees.

• Use only disposable cups and utensils on patios, which will help defray the need for employees to visit the areas. Develop an incentive for patrons to clear their own tables.

• Make sure that all entrances are kept clear of smoke so anyone walking outside will be spared from second-hand smoke.

If at least one council member was willing to "think outside the box" and look for a compromise the new ordinance could be shelved and the health of the public and employees would not be harmed. And bar owners and the patrons themselves could get what they want.

Mountain View should never step back from protecting restaurant and bar employees from dangerous second-hand smoke, which is a well-proven carcinogen that can cause serious harm. But as smokers and bar owners have argued, many people continue to enjoy smoking despite the overwhelming evidence that it is hazardous to their health. We believe there is a way to accommodate smokers without harming the rest of us. The council should charge its staff members to look for a solution and delay implementation of this ordinance.


Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Though this editorial may prompt more rhetorical comments from the usual fixed assumptions, having attended THIS week's City Council meeting (Feb. 21) -- the week after the vote reported above -- I was struck by new testimony to the Council by Nick Chaput of the Central Business Association (he owns the locally popular Dana St Roasting Co.) This has not yet, to my knowledge, been reported in the Voice.

Chaput commented first that the Feb. 14 Council discussion and vote occurred the night of Valentine's Day, traditionally busiest night of the year in the restaurant trade. While local restaurant owners were preoccupied by their businesses, Chaput said, the Council heard from professional advocates who came from outside Mountain View to testify in support of the ban.

Chaput also remarked that most suppositions on health statistics from _outdoor_ second-hand smoke derive from a single study whose actual data were for indoor smoking, and applied theoretical models to obtain outdoor projections. Those quantitative projections are, he said, largely discredited in a more recent rigorous study actually measuring outdoor smoke for the first time. The more recent study, to its authors' surprise, found that the old models for outdoor second-hand exposure badly overstated its dangers.

On Feb. 21, Chaput pledged to forward these study references to Council members by email. I'm trying to reach him now to get a copy.

Like several other people commenting on this issue before, I'm a non-smoker who dislikes the habit, but am concerned about the spread of rules of the everything-not-compulsory-is-prohibited type. Especially if rationalized with fashionable but inaccurate data.

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