Smokers are gradually being squeezed out of their puffs in public places in Pleasanton by more rules aimed at encouraging them to abandon their habits or take their smokes into back alleys where they're still allowed.
Last Tuesday, the City Council amended the municipal code to prohibit smoking at special events downtown to allow those at street fairs and other festivities to enjoy a non-smoking environment.
The action follows a ban on smoking in all Pleasanton parks put in place in July 2014 at the recommendation of the city's Youth Commission, which argued that secondhand smoke poses a threat to others in the parks. That ruling also prohibits smoking on public trails and in city parking lots serving parks and trails. The council exempted, however, Callippe Preserve Golf Course, although the course's clubhouse already prohibits smoking inside the building and on its outdoor patio.
Members of the Youth Commission were given the Environmental Stewardship Award for their work at the Pleasanton Weekly's Tri-Valley Heroes awards ceremony last October.
The council's newest ruling goes well beyond downtown, stretching the no-smoking rule to all enclosed and some unenclosed public places in the city. These include elevators and public restrooms, buses and taxicabs, and ticket, boarding and waiting areas at public transit depots, all retail stores except tobacco stores, grocery stores and supermarkets, bars, banquet rooms and restaurants, outdoor dining areas, including those on Main Street, and "all areas available to and customarily used by the general public."
The ban, adopted unanimously by the council, doesn't go as far as what City Councilwoman Karla Brown wants, which is to ban smoking in all of downtown Pleasanton and in all multifamily apartment and condominium complexes. That could come next since Brown has asked the city staff to work with the Pleasanton Downtown Association (PDA) to determine where and how extensive a smoking ban could be imposed downtown. She's also acknowledged that such a ban would require support from downtown businesses and apartment and condominium owners.
The council's new law also applies to any building "not open to the sky" that is primarily used for exhibiting activities open to the public, and to health and residential daycare facilities, including those serving adults as well as children. Hotels and motels can now set aside no more than 25% of their rooms for smoking guests.
Although smoking bans like these block secondhand smoke, studies show that the most effective strategy to reduce smoking is to raise the price of the tobacco product. This has been demonstrated repeatedly, with a typical estimate that a 1% price hike would reduce smoking by 1%. Clean indoor nonsmoking regulations have been shown to be successful in the U.S. and other countries. Physician counseling is also effective.
The largest external cost from smoking is harm to an unborn infant when the mother smokes. This is due to nicotine in the smoke. Even e-cigarettes are "nicotine-delivery devices," which means we should add these to no-smoking regulations and tax them as tobacco products.
Employers can play a role by offering smoke-free environments and discounts on health insurance for non-smokers. Insurers can play a role by educating physicians to include no-smoking advice in their consultations with patients and by covering those visits with low patient cost-sharing.
There's also the cost incentive. WalletHub, a personal finance online social network, calculated the potential monetary losses brought on by smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. The study included the cumulative cost of a cigarette pack per day over several decades, health-care expenditures, income losses and other costs. It showed that smoking can not only ruin your health, but it can also burn a nasty hole through your wallet.
Tobacco use accounts for nearly half a million premature deaths in the U.S. each year and is the leading cause of lung cancer, according to the American Lung Association. Even those around tobacco smokers aren't safe from its harmful effects. Since 1964, smoking-related illnesses have claimed 20 million lives in the U.S., 2.5 million of which belonged to nonsmokers who developed diseases merely from secondhand-smoke exposure.
However, the economic and societal costs of smoking-related issues are just as staggering. Every year, reports show, Americans collectively spend a total of $326 billion, including nearly $170 billion in direct health-care costs and more than $156 billion in lost productivity due to premature death and exposure to secondhand smoke.
Given the cost for taxpayers who must fund many of these expenses, City Council members said their action was more than regulatory; but really amounted to a significant tax break for the community.