Santa Cruz weighs in on the smoking ban
There is no denying that smoking is a bad habit—bad for you, and bad for those around you. But ever since the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously passed a new smoking ban on Tuesday, Sept. 8, locals have been debating whether cigarette ick-factor is enough to warrant outlawing them altogether.
Officially titled the Smoking Pollution Control Ordinance, the ban will take effect on Oct. 20 and forbid smoking on Pacific Avenue, Beach Street, West Cliff Drive and all other city-owned properties, such as the Municipal Wharf, parks and City Hall. The ordinance will also disallow smoking within 25 feet of any public window or door and in the outdoor dining areas of bars and restaurants. Hotels will also be affected, as the mandatory percentage of non-smoking rooms has been upped from 75 to 90 percent.
The new rule was passed into law before an enthusiastic, mostly supportive crowd. Among them were smokers, non-smokers, parents, business owners and environmental advocates—most of whom were in support of the council’s decision to shoot for cleaner air on our busiest walkways. Parents were grateful for healthier environments for their children; environmental groups were thrilled that fewer cigarette butts will end up on the beaches. Some advocates say Santa Cruz is simply ahead of the curve on this front, and, according to the trends, cigarette tolerance may very well be on its way out altogether: several larger cities, like New York, are considering a similar ban in parks and beaches, and the Food and Drug Administration recently outlawed flavored cigarettes (say goodbye to your cloves and menthols, everyone).
As the weeks pass and the deadline for lighting up draws near, Mayor Cynthia Mathews says the response to the ban continues to be “overwhelmingly positive.”
Out of curiosity, GT hit the streets to see how everyday Cruzans feel this ordinance will or will not affect their lives or businesses, speaking to over 30 civilians, tourists, business owners and several homeless or jobless persons.
Of those encountered in our informal survey, over half were aware of the ban. Within that group, half were in favor of it. One Swedish tourist, who identified himself as Sam, says he supports the ban simply because it is “healthier.” Another tourist surveyed, a young man using his laptop on the sidewalk, says he hasn’t heard of it and adds, “I don’t care, to be honest.”
Others weren’t so indifferent. A group of homeless youth gathered in front of the Metro Station exemplified a common concern about the ban among the homeless population: that it is targeting them. A young man named Jacob says he feels personally attacked by the ordinance and that it is an attempt by the city to keep homeless people away from downtown. Several blocks up Pacific Avenue, local homeless advocate J. Craig Canada (who ran for city council in the last election on a medical marijuana platform) sits quietly smoking a cigarette. When asked about the ban, he also says that it is a discriminatory measure—especially against those who need to medicate with prescription marijuana throughout the day, since the ban includes the smoking of everything. “I don’t think this is about health,” Canada says with certainty. “It’s about intolerance and prejudice. It will be selectively enforced.”
The Santa Cruz City Council has passed several ordinances that affect the downtown area since the start of 2009, and many in addition to this one have been cited as attempting to get rid of “undesirable” downtown loiterers. Councilmember Don Lane, who has been involved with homeless services for many years, assures that this is not the council’s agenda. “I worked to make sure that this ordinance was fair and not discriminatory,” he says. “This is why the ordinance applies to every part of Santa Cruz—not only to downtown. If people assume that it applies only to downtown then they might think it is targeting street people downtown, but we are focusing on public spaces all over town.”
The council also says it is untrue that this ordinance was passed to help the city collect revenue. In fact, says Mathews, they expect the accrued revenue from citations (which won’t be issued until mid-November) to be “insignificant.” “There aren’t going to be dragnets for smoking,” says Mathews. “That’s how most of these ordinances work. Like skateboarding on Pacific Avenue: the idea isn’t to be issuing a lot of tickets for skateboarding, it’s just to let people know that skateboarding isn’t allowed there. The idea is to achieve compliance.”
Compliance is exactly what some downtown business owners, such as Alfresco owner Marilyn Strayer, hope this ordinance will achieve. Alfresco is a “healthy fast food” kiosk located in front of New Leaf Community Market on the corner of Pacific and Soquel avenues. In addition to providing an outdoor dining area for Strayer’s restaurant, New Leaf and the nearby Campensiño stand, the corner is a popular hangout for youths and homeless.
Strayer says that the smoke that often wafts around her stand has adversely affected her health over the six years she has worked there. She now suffers from asthma. She has adorned her stand and surrounding tables with “No Smoking” signs, but finds it difficult to enforce.
“Technically you can’t smoke between these two areas anyway, but it is really hard to go out there and say ‘could you please not smoke here,’” she says. “Some people will be nice about it, some people will actually blow smoke at me in retaliation. I figure it’s a lot easier to say, ‘could you not smoke here, it’s actually against the law.’”
Kimberly East owns and operates the Café On-The-Go Cart stationed on Pacific Avenue between Lincoln and Cathcart streets. She says she doesn’t experience as much “trouble” as Strayer does a block down, but understands how this ordinance will be a helpful tool in maintaining cooperation and peace on the Avenue. She believes this ordinance, and those that precede it, are aimed at deterring loitering.
“That’s what gives the rise for the desire for ordinances—to keep people moving,” she says.
As a non-smoker herself, East is conflicted about the new law—partially because she is worried it will affect her client base. Every morning for the three years her cart has been open, a group of regulars come for a cup of joe, conversation and a few smokes. She says she won’t be surprised if they opt to switch their routine to a coffee shop off Pacfic. “I’d do it if I were them,” she says. “I’d be pissed. And they are—they’re angry. They feel like they are more or less innocent people caught in the crossfire.”
She also says that the city should provide a designated smoking area as an alternative for smokers. Cackie Gates, manager of Santa Cruz Roasting Company, agrees. “You’re talking about cigarettes here,” she says. “People light up when they wake up, after every meal—when cigarettes are a part of your life, they are a big part of your life. There has got to be a place for people who smoke to smoke.”
According to Lane, the ordinance takes this into consideration. “The ordinance is not designed to drive people away … it is designed to keep the most heavily walked areas free of smoke,” he says. ““People can walk a half a block from Pacific Avenue on most blocks and still find a legal place to smoke.”
Like East, Gates—who makes it clear she is speaking on behalf of herself, not the company—is also on the fence about the ordinance. Although she says “there is no right or wrong to this question,” she foresees a positive impact on business. “As a manager, you want to keep the front of your store looking clean,“ she says, referring to the cigarette-wielding crowd that tends to congregate in front of the coffee shop. But like East and Strayer, she has seen how hard it can be to enforce some rules. When asked if the ban will be successfully enforced, she simply bursts into laughter. “I used to get sworn at on a daily basis for telling people to not smoke on the patio, or to get off the railing,” she says. “In the beginning that will be hard for people to swallow. It will be challenging, but it will work out eventually.”