By the time I was 10, I had seen enough “60 Minutes” segments on the dangers of tobacco — and the lengths that R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris would go to in order to hide that danger from the general public — to take a principled stand against cigarettes. I decided to never smoke them myself and to never buy them for anyone else, despite the fact that my job as the youngest boy in a big family was to go to the store whenever anyone needed anything and I usually got to keep the change when I went.
Eliminating the cigarette runs really cut into my Mike and Ike money, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to help someone I love pay a giant tobacco-dealing corporation for the privilege of using their product to slowly commit suicide. Even as a kid, I understood that cigarette smoke causes people to get sick and die — and I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
Readers of this column should know that I’ve had some differences of opinion with Rent Control Board Member (and good guy) Robert Kronovet. I’m progressive, so I believe we should use the power of the state to make progress toward a more perfect union; he’s conservative, so he thinks the power of the state should only be used when absolutely necessary.
But there is one thing that we agree on and that’s the idea that one person’s rights end where another person’s rights begin. And at next week’s Rent Control Board meeting, Kronovet will be introducing a proposal to improve the lives of non-smoking tenants in Santa Monica that the board and the City Council should unanimously support.
The thing I like most about his plan is its simplicity. It would protect the health of tenants by banning smoking in apartments that share either a floor or ceiling with another apartment — and do so without infringing on property owners’ or smokers’ rights. Landlords would still be able to rent to smokers and would be able to designate smoking areas for them, provided that they are at least 20 feet away from doors and windows that people use. Smokers would still be able to smoke inside their apartments, provided that they take responsibility for their second-hand smoke. It’s an almost perfect solution.
The only problem with Kronovet’s proposal is the cost to smokers who want to smoke in their apartments. A city ordinance passed earlier this year expanded the ban on smoking in Santa Monica to include the common areas of apartment buildings and provided a means by which residents can seek damages in the amount of $100, $200, and $500 respectively for first, second, and third violations within a calendar year. The proposal would basically apply those same fines to violations of the shared ceiling or floor ban, meaning a smoker who lives between two non-smokers could be paying $1,000 per cigarette smoked indoors. I don’t care how much pleasure you get from a pack of smokes, for $20,000 I recommend you seriously consider a concierge doctor and designer pharmaceuticals.
Some opponents of this ban will try to argue the science. They’ll claim that second-hand smoke is no more dangerous than many of the toxic household products we use every day. They are wrong. For every chemical or substance sold or used in the U.S., standards are established based on a “safe” level of exposure as defined by medical/health professionals. No scientist anywhere in the world has been able to determine a “safe” level of exposure to second-hand smoke (and they’ve been trying for decades), which means inhaling any amount of second-hand smoke is a health hazard that should be avoided. That’s a conclusion shared by every medical/health professional on the planet without exception. There is some doubt as to whether or not second-hand smoke can kill you, but there is no question that it’s not good for you. The science is unequivocal.
Some have said that this ban is just another example of liberals using the power of big government to impose their worldview on freedom-loving “real Americans.” That cracks me up because these are people who have clearly never met Robert Kronovet or had a conversation with him. Believe me when I tell you, that’s not his motivation.
Those smokers who complain that they already can’t smoke in bars, restaurants, or parks, at bus stops, on the Third Street Promenade, or on much of our iconic Santa Monica Pier can cry me a river — then build a bridge and get over it. They still have the right to smoke, of course, because this is a free country and it’s not a crime to be self-destructive (thank God); but those of us who choose not to smoke also have a right to breathe smoke-free air. While that doesn’t mean we have a right to never be exposed to second-hand smoke, it does mean that it’s the smoker’s responsibility to keep his or her smoke away from the rest of us. Kronovet’s proposal simply makes that responsibility a legal obligation in a city known for its ocean breezes and jasmine-scented streets.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who doesn’t judge the smokers in his life, but wishes they would quit. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.