Los Angeles Times
February 6, 2006


Rachel's summary: Sometimes precautionary action can be jump-started
by labeling a substance or a practise as dangerous, hazardous or toxic.

Secondhand smoke's designation as a toxic contaminant gives
politicians and activists extra ammunition for more restrictions.

By Janet Wilson

Paul Scott recalls sitting trapped in the back of his family's station
wagon as a boy in the 1960s, his parents chain-smoking up front.

"The smoke would be thick in there; you just couldn't get away from it
... the stench most of all," said Scott, 53, of Santa Monica. "It gave
me headaches. I remember looking outside and wishing I could breathe
that air instead."

Scott has never smoked. But in 2002, he was diagnosed with bladder
cancer. The likely cause, his doctors told him, was the secondhand
smoke he breathed throughout childhood.

California air regulators have recently classified this drifting
byproduct of cigarettes as a toxic contaminant that can kill or harm
bystanders, especially children, a designation that is a first for any

"If my parents had known, they never would have done it," Scott said.

The Air Resources Board has three years to enact any additional
regulations needed to protect the public from secondhand smoke, a task
the board's spokesman said could be difficult because of the state's
already stringent anti-smoking laws. But the designation has already
given a boost to local governments and private entities working to
restrict smoking.

Last week the Calabasas City Council unanimously passed an ordinance
banning smoking in outdoor spaces when other people are in the area.

Calabasas officials had been "feeling the heat" from smokers who
opposed the proposed law, said Mayor Barry Groveman. But the state's
"extraordinary" action Jan. 26 silenced the critics.

"There is a clean-air god, and he or she smiled on Calabasas,"
Groveman said. "I'm going to call on all my fellow mayors to do the
same thing. Now that California has taken this step, why should people
have to wait two or three years when cities can do it so much more

The designation in California, which leads the way nationally in anti-
smoking laws, will substantially change how the public perceives the
risk of secondhand smoke "and create a very major demand to do
something about it," said Stanton Glantz, a UC San Francisco professor
of medicine who served on a scientific panel that unanimously
recommended the air board take action.

"Two things at the top of everybody's list are dealing with smoke in
cars and dealing with drift of smoke from one apartment or condo to
another," Glantz said. "This is going to speed the solution to those
problems. Exactly how, I don't know, but I'm quite confident it will

Some anti-smoking activists have an ambitious list.

"Doorways, bus stops, outdoor waiting lines of any kind, also the ATM:
They should all be nonsmoking," said Esther Schiller, director of
Smokefree Air for Everyone, a Granada Hills nonprofit, noting that the
Centers for Disease Control suggests that people with heart disease,
cancer or asthma avoid places with smoke.

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

Public health advocates have also set their sights on Native American-
owned casinos, since state scientists concluded for the first time
that secondhand smoke causes breast cancer in pre-menopausal women.

"Bartenders, waitresses and card dealers are all at risk," said
Theresa Boscher, co-director of Resources and Education Supporting
People Everywhere Controlling Tobacco, a Sacramento nonprofit group
launching a campaign to persuade tribal leaders to ban smoking in
their 50-plus casinos. She said that although Indian nations did not
have to abide by state or local laws, "the state's action gives us an
entree to talk to them."

A spokeswoman for Pechanga Casino and Resort said they had set aside
one-sixth of their 180,000-square-foot gaming floor for nonsmokers and
that fresh air was pumped into the casino every three minutes.

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

Tobacco companies that objected in written comments before the air
board's decision last week either did not return calls or declined to
comment on the likelihood of new tougher state laws.

In a general policy statement, Philip Morris USA spokeswoman Jennifer
Golisch said, "We... believe that particular care should be exercised
where children are concerned, and adults should avoid smoking around
them. We also believe the conclusions of public health officials
concerning environmental tobacco smoke are sufficient to warrant
measures that regulate smoking in public places."

In 2004, state legislators failed to pass a law banning smoking in
vehicles in which children rode. Former Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh
(D-Los Angeles), now running for the state Senate, sponsored the

"It was fought tooth and nail by the tobacco industry," Firebaugh
said. He said tobacco lobbyists told him that the law "climbed into
the family unit and dictated how to raise children." If elected, he
said, he will try to reintroduce the legislation. The air board's
action "strengthens our argument considerably," Firebaugh said. "I
think it would have much more likelihood of success."

In Santa Monica, a group of renters is in the early stages of seeking
a city ordinance to separate smoking and nonsmoking tenants.

Beth Miller, a 52-year-old chef, moved into her high-rent, high-rise
Santa Monica apartment three years ago because "I love where it is.
Right at the beach."

An asthmatic, she made sure to check with the leasing company that
none of her neighbors smoked. But the neighbor whose patio adjoins
hers regularly smokes cigars, and two neighbors below her smoke
cigarettes. The patio sliding door is her only source of ventilation
on hot days. She said she had spoken to her neighbor and complex
managers numerous times, with no success.

"I know it's huge to ask people to move, or not to smoke," she said.
"But I think if we could change the floors to smoking and nonsmoking,
it would work," she said. Santa Monica elected officials did not
respond to requests for comment.

Thousand Oaks officials passed a law last year requiring separate
smoking and nonsmoking areas in low-cost housing projects receiving
city money. Schiller said all public housing projects should do the
same. She said nearly 300 private apartment owners had notified her
office that they rented smoke-free buildings or areas. She said not
renting to smokers was legal and was also reducing cleaning costs for

Although there is a booming market for nonsmoking rental units, "it's
tough to enforce," said Shari Rosen, head of the 1,000 member Rental
Housing Owners Assn., covering the San Fernando Valley and Ventura.
She said cities often made it hard to evict tenants, even if a ban on
smoking was written into a lease.

Many experts say increasing public awareness about the dangers of
secondhand smoke is the single best tool for change. In the early
1990s a tremendous public outcry led to the passage of the California
Smoke-Free Workplace Act in 1994. Most people waiting at a busy bus
stop in downtown Riverside recently said smoking should be banned
wherever possible, except perhaps in one's own home. Smoking is
already forbidden on public transportation, so smokers regularly use
bus and rail stops for a last-chance puff, locations that many would
like made smoke-free zones.

"There's a lot of elderly people and a lot of kids with asthma that
ride the bus, and they don't need to be around smoke" while waiting,
said Regina Moffit, 43. She thought ATM lines were fair game too.

But smokers were incensed.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Amy Dunne, 30, a pack-a-day smoker who
said she always stands off to the side at a bus stop, "away from the
crowd," when she lights up. She sees regulating it in open air as an
infringement on her rights. "They might as well just ban it
everywhere," she said.

But even the fiercest activists are not advocating outlawing nicotine

Referring to the outlawing of alcohol in the 1920s, Schiller said,
"Remember Prohibition? It didn't work."

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times