In January the City Council banned smoking from common areas of apartment buildings and condominiums throughout Santa Monica. The law went into effect in February, though in my building the signs didn’t go up until July. (Apparently there was a sudden shortage of sign makers.)
The ordinance allows victims of secondhand smoke to file for a court injunction or collect $100 in damages. If the art of politics is epitomized when all sides feel slightly dissatisfied, this law could be called artful.
Smokers aren’t happy because their smoking is restricted. (As my niece says, “Duh.”) Recently, at my apartment building there were two instances of a non-smoker (they prefer “clean air advocates”) asking a smoker to comply with the new law. In one, the female non-smoker was called “a Nazi,” while in the other, the male was told to perform an act upon himself, which I believe is anatomically impossible.
First of all, whether it’s the smoking debate, or health care town hall meetings, can we all agree to save the Nazi references for real Nazis? Calling someone who objects to secondhand smoke a Nazi is despicable given the horrors inflicted by the regime. (That is, unless you believe Mel Gibson’s father.)
The same for the term “fascist.” I have a friend of 30 years who’s in need of anger management but shall remain nameless (M.H.). He screamed that I was a fascist because I supported the smoking ban, which apparently puts me in the same league as Benito Mussolini.
The clean air advocates are also disappointed. To prosecute they must give the smoker written notice, which may be a little difficult when being called a Nazi or told to screw oneself. And who can afford a day in court in hopes of getting a whopping $100? (Then again, if you could bring a bunch of smokers simultaneously, you might have a cottage industry.)
The law allows for a designated smoking area 20 feet away from non-smokers. Our management said that no one has asked for it, and besides, “We have bigger fish to fry, like California’s unemployment.” (To which I could only scratch my head in bewilderment.)
To be fair, in framing the law the council had to juggle constituencies. The Rent Control Board didn’t want landlords to use smoking violations as grounds for eviction. (Would a landlord do that just to get fair market rent?) And the council didn’t want to involve the police as they might have more important things to do than arrest a cigar smoker. (Although, on the other hand … )
Clearly, if cigarettes were introduced today, they’d never get FDA approval. There are thousands of chemicals in each cigarette, including: benzene, pesticides, formaldehyde, arsenic, ammonia, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and, my personal fave, polonium-210, the radioactive element that the Russians used to kill spies.
I actually feel compassion for smokers. Most begin in their teens and quitting, after years of smoking, is obviously not easy. Take Patrick Swayze, who’s courageously battling cancer. Following hopeful, new treatments, recent photos show that he’s put on weight. And yet, he’s holding a cigarette in his hand. Or, President Obama, who beat the Hillary Clinton machine but can’t beat the Marlboro Man (or Rush Limbaugh, who’s toxic in a different way).
The new law requires that landlords give residents written notice of the ordinance and post signs on the property. (Ours are 8-by-13-inches wide, not exactly eye-grabbers.) According to my unscientific survey (my e-mail address book) compliance is a bit spotty. City Attorney Adam Radinsky of the Consumer Protection Unit explains logically that it takes time. But go to Main Street on any weekend, or to the Santa Monica Pier during the Twilight Dance Series, and you might wonder what the definition of “takes time” really is.
Curiously, even smokers don’t like smoke. Many go out on their balcony to light up. That’s great, unless you’re on the balcony next door. As the U.S. surgeon general says, “There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”
While I jokingly suggest that the council has “passed the butt,” I readily admit that I have no easy answers. (I’m happy if I have easy questions.) Lately, some residents in my building have mutually agreed upon hours when the smoker smokes and the neighbor shuts his/her windows. That seems almost too civilized.
Hopefully, technology may help. Type in your browser “electronic cigarettes” and see for yourself. Unfortunately they’re getting poor health reviews from the FDA though maybe the science will improve. In the meantime the city of Calabasas adopted an ordinance that creates smoking-permitted and non-smoking units and separates the two.
By all accounts the Calabasas system seems to be working well. If a program like this ultimately becomes a viable compromise, I just hope no one calls it a Nazi scheme. Then again, I probably wouldn’t be all that surprised if they do.
Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.