Strict smoking ban imposed

In Calabasas, Calif., it is now illegal to light up in outdoor public spaces. So far, reaction is mixed.

March 18, 2006|By BOB POOLE

CALABASAS, Calif. -- As a citywide public smoking ban went into effect, enforcement came from a higher authority: Mother Nature.

A rainstorm sent renegade smokers stubbing out their cigarettes and scurrying for cover as security guards began issuing warnings at the town's main shopping center.

"You are going to get a $500 citation," one guard warned Dannielle Wakely as she sat at an outdoor table at the Calabasas Commons puffing on a cigarette. A moment earlier, shopper Erit Litvak had bummed a cigarette and a match from Wakely. She listened to the security guard's warning with her mouth agape.

"I am putting it out!" exclaimed Litvak. "Am I in trouble?"

Calabasas, an upscale suburb wedged between the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County, has generated national attention for what appears to be the first ban on smoking in all outdoor public spaces.

While antismoking forces have cheered Calabasas, the effort has met a decidedly mixed reaction within the city.

By the afternoon, under cloudy skies, cagey smokers were playing a game of cat-and-mouse with mall security. They were smoking in darkened alcoves, hiding their lighted cigarettes under patio tables and shooing away telltale traces of smoke.

Earlier this year, the California Air Resources Board declared secondhand smoke a toxic air contaminant, opening the door to possible additional regulation of cigarette smokers in coming years.

Air Resources Board staff found that an estimated 4,700 Californians died annually from illnesses caused by secondhand smoke, including heart disease, cancers and sudden infant death syndrome. Thousands more children suffer asthma attacks and other problems.

About 16 percent of Californians smoke, down from previous years and far less than other areas of the country. But 56 percent of adults and 64 percent of adolescents are exposed to secondhand smoke. The highest exposure - 10 times greater than elsewhere - is in cars.

The state action gave a boost to the Calabasas City Council, which voted unanimously this year to ban smoking outdoors when others are subjected to secondhand smoke.

Dozens of California cities have laws limiting or prohibiting smoking at beaches, piers or parks.

But as of today, Calabasas has done more, banning smoke in doorways, at bus stops, and at outdoor waiting lines of any kind, such as at an ATM.

The measure was designed to prohibit smoking in public areas where smokers and nonsmokers congregate.

Bob Poole writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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