Ten weeks after they enacted the most draconian smoking ban in the nation, city officials in Calabasas, Calif., say the rules are having the desired impact -- reducing exposure to the secondhand smoke that can accumulate when smokers congregate outdoors and near building entrances.
No citations have been issued over the rule, which bans all smoking outdoors except in designated areas. And business leaders are cooperating, with the city approving 16 permits so far for businesses wanting to have smoking areas designated nearby, the officials say.
"The response we have heard thus far is mostly positive," said Stephanie Warren, chairman of the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce. "Most of our members are for anything that maintains our standard of living."
Some smokers are bridling: Robert Best, California state coordinator for the Smokers Club Inc., an international smokers-rights coalition, says his group is waging a grass-roots boycott. Mr. Best says so far close to 100 commuters who drive through Calabasas, about 10 miles west of Los Angeles, have signed on and suspended dining or shopping there in protest.
Smokers' rights groups contend that no scientific or medical data indicate that curbs on outdoor smoking are effective or necessary. "We all know that smoke dissipates," says Mr. Best.
The tobacco industry also isn't enthusiastic about the initiative. "Complete bans on outdoor smoking go too far," said Jennifer Golisch, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris USA, part of Altria Group Inc. the world's largest cigarette maker by sales. "Smoking should be permitted outdoors except in very particular circumstances, such as outdoor areas primarily designed for children." Ms. Golisch said Altria, whose brands include Marlboro, didn't get involved in the Calabasas ordinance.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that second-hand smoke indoors causes respiratory illness in millions of children annually and may contribute to as many as 3,000 deaths from lung cancer and 62,000 deaths from heart disease among adults each year.
Studies also show that while smokers develop habits that allow them to cough and free their lungs of inhaled tobacco, nonsmokers are less aware of the volume of smoke in the atmosphere and unconsciously breathe in secondhand smoke at higher degrees than smokers.
But researchers haven't been able to pinpoint at what level a concentration of smoke outdoors increases a person's risk of disease, says Derek Raghavan, director of the Cleveland Clinic/Taussig Cancer Center in Ohio. Studies haven't indicated how many smokers could, during a given time period, accumulate a concentration of smoke that might endanger a nonsmoker's health.
The lack of hard data hasn't stopped lawmakers from banning smoking to accommodate nonsmoker comfort inside public and private places or to reduce litter from cigarette buds on the streets, parks or on beaches.
Thirty-one states ban smoking indoors at work places, and 12 prohibit smoking in public places, including restaurants, bars, clubs and some casinos. California, the first state to ban smoking inside public places, also leads the nation in outdoor restrictions.
More than a dozen cities and towns along the California coast prohibit smoking on beaches, with varying degrees of enforcement. And earlier this year, California declared secondhand smoke to be a toxic air pollutant. That means that, as with other designated toxins, such as vehicle exhaust and industrial air pollutants, the California Environmental Protection Agency must work with the state, local governments or industries to reduce public exposure. It's unclear what measures the state will take, but the process of coming up with a strategy to reduce nonsmoker risk could take two or three years.
"So far it's really had the desired effect," says Barry Groveman, the former Calabasas mayor who pushed for the legislation, and who now sits on the city council. He said officials elsewhere in California and in other states have contacted Calabasas to study the effect of the ordinance.