By Herb Perez
Prohibition in the United States was a nationwide constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation and transportation of alcoholic beverages that remained in place from 1920 to 1933. Though popular opinion believes Prohibition failed, it succeeded in cutting overall alcohol consumption in half during the 1920s.
Today, we allow individuals to drink, but legislate the age, place and operation of vehicles by those who do to protect those who don’t. Nonetheless, we allow drinkers to drink at their election often to excess in spite of the known detrimental effect it has on their individual health and welfare.
To me, the lessons of history are relevant and in large part analogous to the recent discussions in Foster City that have taken place as we moved forward in developing a smoking ordinance. There’s no surprise that a wholesale prohibition of the sale and use of tobacco products — my primary and personal preference in approach — was complex and fraught with competing interests. Sadly, a wholesale approach was not the desire of the City Council and as such over the months of discussion and debate raised conflicting civic and personal policy considerations for the council to address.
When I am teaching or attempting to master a new skill, I find it good practice to break the subject matter down into manageable parts. As an educator, coach and athlete, I have come to employ the concepts of the acronym, IDEA: Identify, Demonstrate, Explain and Apply. As a councilman, I have come to employ the same in the analysis of equally challenging policy questions, of which most recently applied to the adoption of new non-smoking regulations:
For me, the priority was addressing the primary concern of protecting the impacts of secondhand smoke on the unsuspecting general public at large. To me, that means the areas which have the greatest numbers of people — residents or visitors on any given day — where the individual has no other choice than to be subjected to its ill effects. Certain public spaces have prohibited smoking for some time. Under the latest incarnation of Foster City’s ordinance, these protections will be extended to public streets, parks and entryways to all buildings both public and commercial. This is consistent with trying to protect non-smokers from the perils of secondhand smoke.
In the case of residential properties, those that are private (single detached) residences, remain outside the scope of the ordinance.
Quasi-public is defined as “essentially public although under private ownership or control” and includes everything from a shopping center to common interest developments (which includes homeowners’ associations as well as apartments) through to commercial buildings and their sidewalks and passage ways. These are all privately owned yet have in large part their own covenants, conditions and restrictions of use.
The current ordinance has been expanded so it prohibits smoking in the “common areas,” for example, sidewalks and entryways, but the question remains should owners of quasi-public property be allowed to designate smoking areas and if so, to what avail? Should the smoking area(s) be enclosed where the public is protected but where we know the individual is at even greater risk, should areas where the public have been given access as a courtesy now be restricted, etc.
The mix and treatment of what falls in under this category presents unique challenges and requires a customized approach for each. There is no doubt that we need to provide ample protection to those who reside in our buildings, as they would have none other than what we offer. Significant further outreach and education is required to study how best to address the challenges associated with progressing even further with our ordinance. So please, speak up. These topics will be the subject of several upcoming meetings. We will be treating each of these environments separately, taking each of these topics and providing them with individual policy analysis so we may craft a comprehensive smoking policy that prevents the public from being unduly subjected to secondhand smoke.
Herb Perez is a member of the Foster City Council. He can be reached at email@example.com or (650) 468-3143.