The City of Santa Barbara has begun the process of toughening its outdated smoking ordinance.
Paul Wellman (file)

The City of Santa Barbara on Tuesday took baby steps toward updating its 14-year-old smoking ordinance, which is out of sync with state law, doesn’t address electronic smoking devices or medical marijuana, and is overall far too lenient, according to the American Lung Association. The city received a “D” grade during the health agency’s latest assessment of individual communities’ smoking laws. Carpinteria and the county, by contrast, each received “B” grades.

Currently, the only locations where the city prohibits smoking are in outdoor dining areas (except bars, and in 25 percent of outdoor seating at restaurants after 10 p.m.); in public service areas like bus stops and ATMs; and at multi-unit housing complexes operated by the Housing Authority.

Looking at guidelines provided by the American Lung Association and at the smoking laws in nearby jurisdictions, City Hall staff informed councilmembers that they would be within their legal and political bounds if they banned smoking at all outdoor restaurant and bar seating at all times; near the doors and windows of buildings where smoking isn’t allowed; at festivals, parades, and farmer’s markets; at beaches, parks, and sports fields; along Stearns Wharf and the harbor; in parking structures and lots; on sidewalks in the downtown area and other commercial corridors; at construction sites; and in multiunit apartment buildings.

To reduce tobacco consumption among minors, city staff said the council may also want to consider placing new restrictions on the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies, individual cigars, and flavored products. To cover the cost of increased enforcement efforts and compliance checks, the city could increase the annual $30 license fee paid by Santa Barbara’s 119 tobacco retailers.

At Tuesday’s meeting, members of the public spoke in support of tougher smoking restrictions, citing the danger of secondhand fumes and the pollution of cigarette butts along Santa Barbara’s waterfront. They said Goleta, Buellton, Lompoc, and Santa Maria have all banned smoking at beaches and parks, and that Santa Barbara is woefully behind the times when it comes to public health consciousness and tobacco use.

A handful of downtown bar and club operators, however, voiced concern that an outright ban on outdoor smoking would be big blow to business. Managers of Wildcat Lounge and Elsie’s said they understand and appreciate the health concerns, but if paying customers wish to smoke in designated, partitioned areas, they should be allowed to. Some locations, they explained, recently invested in new patios catering specifically to smokers, including European tourists who should be made to feel welcome.

Overall, the council expressed a desire to strengthen the city’s smoking laws. How far they’re tightened will be determined in the coming months as the Ordinance Committee crafts a new menu of rules, which will then be presented to the full council for approval.

Councilmembers Randy Rowse and Gregg Hart sympathized with the business owners and said any new laws shouldn’t be too onerous for the downtown entertainment district. Councilmember Cathy Murillo said she was in total support of a smoking ban on public beaches and Stearns Wharf. Councilmember Jason Dominguez was similarly in favor of expanded restrictions.

Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss, however, cautioned against too much enthusiasm for imposing new rules. Smokers have rights, too, he said. “I think we have to protect both the majority and the minority. That’s part of the American system.” Hotchkiss said he doesn’t want smokers to feel ostracized in Santa Barbara: “They’re not lepers.”


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