Photo by Rosario Serna.
Photo by Rosario Serna.

Despite a unanimous vote to pass a ban on smoking in multiple public areas in Santa Cruz last October, the American Lung Association (ALA) gave Santa Cruz a “D” grade on its annual tobacco report card.

After the ban’s passing, which prohibited smoking in various outdoor areas including Pacific Avenue, West Cliff Drive, Beach Street and city parks, the city received a “B” grade in the outdoor air portion of its report card, but got subpar grades in the areas of reducing tobacco sales and smoke-free residences.

City Councilmember Don Lane, one of the authors of the original smoking ban, said that only time will tell whether the ban is ultimately successful.

“It’s just starting to have an effect,” Lane said. “It’s been pretty small because the signs that actually say ‘No Smoking’ on Pacific Avenue and in a couple other places just went up a month ago, so it’s a little soon to say that it has had an effect.”

According to Lane, police at the downtown post have expressed that the ban is beginning to have a positive impact. According to statistics from the Santa Cruz Police Deparment, 65 citations have been issued, each of them for a fee of $20.

However, some businesses on Pacific Avenue have yet to notice any real changes. Jorge Meza, who works at Bonesio Liquors downtown, said that few people adhere to the ban.

“I’ve heard of a couple people getting tickets … but I see people walking up and down smoking,” Meza said.

Meza went on to say that more focus should be put on helping people quit their tobacco addictions rather than punishment. Lane holds a similar view about the purpose of the ban.

“That’s really more the point — not to just clamp down on everybody, but to just say that this is a smoke-free area, and please respect it,” Lane said.

Kristin Jauregui, staff leader of the Bonny Doon Garden Company, said that the ban should accomplish more.

“It’s pretty bad for our flowers, and I have a few employees who have asthma and they prefer people don’t smoke down there,” Jauregui said. “It was one of those things where they just had nothing better to do. If they’re going to ban smoking, they should enforce it.”

Donald Gould, a regular visitor to Pacific Avenue, expressed his ambivalence toward the ban.

“I guess it would be a good thing if they enforced it,” Gould said. “I wouldn’t mind going down a side street to smoke.”

Protection from exposure to second-hand smoke, which is a significant health concern, is one of the main objectives of the ban. Smoke-free outdoor air is a major priority of the ALA and this factors into deciding tobacco report card grades.

Serena Chen, the regional policy director of the ALA in California, said all of the cities in Santa Cruz County received D grades. She praised Santa Cruz city officials’ efforts to cut down outdoor smoking, but said there was still room for improvement.

“They shouldn’t feel bad about getting a D,” Chen said. “I know that sounds kind of horrible, but there are a lot of cities that are still in the F range. The fact that they got a D and advanced in outdoor air is really great.”

According to Chen, some of the things the city of Santa Cruz can do to raise its grade include creating a mandatory tobacco sales license, placing restrictions on smoking at public events, and requiring landlords to have smoke-free apartments.

She also stressed that the grade was not a judgement on the Santa Cruz community at large, but rather reflects potential areas where the city can improve its policies regarding tobacco.

“It’s really up to your elected city officials as to how much protection they want to implement into their laws,” Chen said. “You can certainly get a B. You can certainly try harder than a D or an F.”