On Oct. 8, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said that France will ban smoking in most public places, including stations, museums, government offices and shops by Feb. 1, 2007.
The news made worldwide headlines as it contrasts everything that France has displayed to us as a national trait. The French are pleasure seekers-they indulge. They smoke in public, they drink wine in public, and if you watch their movies, it seems like they’re always showing off their butts in public, too.
Well, maybe not. But they do enjoy their cigarettes. An estimated 30 percent of the French are smokers. In California, that number is 15 percent. Perhaps health risks make outlawing smoking in indoor public places a good idea, but it’s important to be mindful of the reality of the smoke game.
Fifteen percent of California’s population smokes on a regular basis. Are these people criminals? If people want extra phlegm to hack up in the morning, malodorous clothes, and a side order of cancer, that’s their personal decision. Discrimination is not the answer.
The debate over smoking in public sidewalks has lit up several areas of California.
Longtime resident Bob Yount is calling on Santa Cruz City Hall to ban smoking in the entire downtown area. And the City Council is listening.
"The issue was taken to the federal court," Yount told City on a Hill Press (CHP).
"There is no constitutional right to smoke. The right to breathe clean air supercedes the right to smoke."
"I’d like to see [Santa Cruz] like Calabasas," he said.
The small southern California city of Calabasas is located between Malibu and Beverly Hills. Earlier this year, the residents passed an ordinance outlawing cigarette smoking throughout the entire town.
"I don’t think anyone is paying attention," Sergeant Kevin Finch of the Calabasas Police Department told CHP.
"For us to go out and do something, we need to get a call," he continued. "We’re not hearing calls from people. I have not received any."
Since its passing, the Calabasas antismoking ordinance seems to have gone up in smoke.
"When we’re not writing reports, arresting people, or doing other paperwork, then, yes, we’re required to stop smokers," Finch said.
Finch has not written one citation since the ordinance passed.
Writing reports. Doing paperwork. Arresting people! For Heaven’s sakes, Finch, wake up! Don’t you realize that while you’re out "arresting people" there are people in your town smoking cigarettes!
But what’s going to happen when these nicotine fiends can’t get their fix? Are we expected to just sleep in our beds knowing that at any moment some crazed yellow-tooth maniac could wheeze his way into our children’s rooms and hold them at gunpoint until he receives a pack of menthol lights?
The police have priorities beyond chasing down smokers. Calabasas is a case example: prohibition doesn’t work.Unfortunately smokers leave more than a gray cloud in their midst. Hundreds of cigarette butts line the sidewalks of Pacific Avenue, and that’s disgusting. Each year, the city pays thousands of dollars to ensure we don’t drown in our own half-fried smoke filters.
Santa Cruz Councilman Tim Fitzmaurice was a smoker for 30 years. Since then, he has successfully worked to create smoking bans on the county’s beaches and parks. He advocates doing the same on Pacific Avenue.
"Police would not have to [enforce the law]. People will obey laws even if the officer is not there. We just have to make sure the law is reasonable."
Forcing downtown lunch-hour smokers to scour the town for a place to light up is not reasonable. What drastic measures will smokers go to in order to satiate their cravings?
At some point we’ll find some lost soul standing atop the three-story roof of Borders’ Books with a terrified look on their face.
"Don’t jump! Please! You have a reason to live!"
"No no, I’m just trying to smoke this cigarette!"
The problem lies in littering, not smoking. Santa Cruz needs to advocate harsher penalties for untidy smokers who don’t make the trash bin their cigarettes’ final resting place.
After all, if we continue to show off our butts all along Pacific Avenue, we’ll be just as bad as the French.