Our View: Grass Valley’s downtown smoking ban
February 11, 2013
As the signs have gone up, the opposition has come out against Grass Valley’s ordinance that bans smoking in its “Downtown Core.”
“Intolerant,” “nanny government” and even “totalitarian” are some terms used to describe the city council’s decision. But while resistance to the new rule in town is to be expected, such over-the-top terminology just doesn’t fit.
Some who oppose the smoking ban say it boils down to a “rights” issue. We agree, and apparently so do the city’s council members.
Back in November, when the council approved the ordinance — similar to one implemented earlier in Nevada City — the stated purpose of the proposal was published prior to meetings that addressed it.
Citing the U.S. Surgeon General’s conclusion that even occasional exposure to secondhand smoke is harmful, a report prepared by Police Chief John Foster declared “Citizens who visit Downtown for any reason should be able to do so without being exposed to tobacco smoke.” Foster recommended “prohibiting smoking in public places in the Downtown Core area (1) to protect the public health and welfare; and (2) to guarantee the right of nonsmokers to breathe smoke-free air.”
That right is now protected by the prohibition of smoking in all city-owned property, municipal parking lots (including inside parked cars) and public streets and sidewalks within the “Downtown Core” area, which according to the ordinance, includes “South Church Street to West Main Street to East Main Street to East Bennett Street to Neal Street.”
A December report released by the California Department of Public Health showed the adult smoking rate statewide has been cut in half since 1988, from 23.7 percent to 12 percent in 2011. But the report also showed there are about 3.6 million smokers in the state, and tobacco use kills more than 34,000 Californians each year.
In addition to the health and quality-of-life aspects of the ordinance, its implementation will also positively affect downtown business. We expect the ordinance to create a more family-friendly atmosphere during downtown events and for tourists visiting the area without clouds of smoke to walk through on sidewalks and the cigarette butts often littered along them.
We recognize the likely challenges in enforcing it with a police force already stretched thin, but officers and the Grass Valley Downtown Association are taking a proactive approach by handing out information on the ordinance and smokers are more likely to receive warnings than the $175 fine — as “voluntary compliance” is sought, Foster said this week.
Those opposed to the ordinance might suggest they should have the right to voluntarily choose not to smoke in public places but not when it infringes on the rights of others who have already made that choice and want to enjoy a public area free of tobacco smoke.