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Doug Gamble- Contributor

Doug Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and resides in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]

Starring the Santa Monica City Council as the beach cigarette police

[Doug Gamble] 4/30/04

The anti-smoking Gestapo is at it again.

As expected, Santa Monica City Council has passed a law that bans smoking on the city’s historic, world-famous wooden pier and all four miles of its beaches, threatening to turn “Baywatch” into “Buttwatch.” For the record, I’m a lifelong non-smoker myself, but one who believes in the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even when that happiness comes rolled up in paper and is set on fire.

Before anti-smoking fanatics argue the habit deprives people of the aforementioned life, that’s where liberty comes in. It’s their choice. And before the scolds insist that secondhand smoke threatens the lives of others, prove it. Studies on the subject, taken as a whole, are inconclusive.

I go along with two cancer specialists at the chest diseases unit of The London Health Sciences Center in London, Ontario, Doctors Dildar Ahmad and W. Keith Morgan, who are skeptical of purported dangers of secondhand smoke. While decrying smoking, they criticize anti-smoking forces for rejecting truth and accepting unproven hypotheses to further their concept of ethics or social justice. To my unscientific mind it seems reasonable to believe that carcinogenics that start to break apart the moment smoke is released into the open air cannot have the same toxic effect as when drawn directly into the lungs.

I don’t find smokers nearly as obnoxious as cell phone users who consistently intrude on the enjoyment of public settings. Given a choice between exposure to secondhand smoke and secondhand conversation, I’ll take the former any time. While smokers are satisfying the cravings of a habit difficult to break, and often feel guilty while doing so, they are not, unlike certain rude cell phone users, conspicuously indulging their habit in public for the purpose of making themselves feel important.

Business operators on the Santa Monica Pier feel blindsided by the anti-smoking law. It wasn’t until three days after the City Council’s initial vote on the issue that businesses were told the ban would include outdoor patios. Apparently mislead into believing it would not, they failed to mount a campaign against the anti-smoking forces.

The president of the Santa Monica Pier Lessees Association, Chris Volaski, says she doesn’t believe there are any tenants who thought the smoking ban would be extended to outside patios. Members of the Association are now fighting to have the issue re-opened to give them an opportunity to contest it, but there is probably more chance of an average Cuban getting permission from Fidel Castro to go to Miami.

Santa Monica officials site the risk of fire on the wooden pier as one reason to banish smokers but Volaski, quoted in The Santa Monica Mirror, said, “It has always been a wooden pier.” Smoldering burns on the Pier have reportedly seen a 20% decline since nine ashtrays were put in place, and these are just 1/3 of the number of ashtrays the City said it would install. When it comes to littering, Volaski contends that most smokers “are respectful enough not to litter.”

As for the wide-open spaces of the beach, the idea that people should not smoke there is ludicrous. Yes, it’s more pleasant to see a butt in a thong than a butt left over from a cigarette, but surely the installation of additional trash cans and a public education program should be tried before smokers have sand figuratively kicked into their faces.

While Los Angeles City Council voted to ban beach smoking Friday -- following bans at San Clemente and Solana Beach -- Encinitas has rejected it. Councilman Jerome Stocks said he found no evidence that secondhand smoke is a danger outdoors, adding, “I’m not ready to use the power of government to ban something because it irritates me.”

What is someone with that much good sense doing in politics? CRO

Copyright 2004 Doug Gamble




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