University of Southern California

The Calabasas Smoking Ban: A Local Ordinance Points the Way for the Future of Environmental Tobacco Smoke Regulation

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Note by Jordan Raphael
From Volume 80, Number 2 (January, 2007)

Smokers who plan to smoke in public probably should avoid doing so in Calabasas, California. On March 17, 2006, the city’s smoking ban – the most restrictive in the nation – went into effect, prohibiting smoking virtually anywhere that another person could be exposed to secondhand smoke. The designated nonsmoking areas include bars, restaurants, stadiums, parks, and even streets and sidewalks. The Calabasas ordinance is enforceable by the city attorney or, alternatively, by “private enforcers,” private individuals filing civil suits on behalf of themselves or the general public. To avoid the various penalties that the ordinance imposes, smokers must seek out special smokers’ outposts or light up at least twenty feet away from nonsmokers or others who might potentially be offended by secondhand smoke.

Over the past thirty years, smoking-regulation advocates have fought to curb secondhand smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke (“ETS”), in a variety of settings where it imposes health risks on nonsmokers. Early efforts targeted ETS in workplaces and airplanes, where it was difficult – and in some cases, impossible – for nonsmokers to avoid exposure. Buoyed by victories in these settings and a concomitant shift in public norms regarding the propriety of smoking, advocates agitated for and won smoking restrictions in bars, restaurants, and other public locations. Smoking-regulation forces were especially successful at the local level, pushing through 3000 county and city anti-smoking laws. In California, which serves as a national test bed for anti-smoking legislation, local ETS ordinances tend to be stricter and more comprehensive than those imposed at the state level. The Calabasas ordinance follows this paradigm; by outlawing smoking in public outdoor areas, it goes further than any state law – or any local law – and perhaps even beyond what is justified by the scientific findings on ETS. The ordinance is the logical next step in the progression of ETS legislation, and it demonstrates how strongly rooted the notion that nonsmokers have a right to be free of secondhand smoke has become in our culture. The Calabasas secondhand smoke ordinance, while applicable to only a 13.2-square-mile patch of the San Fernando Valley, is in fact an important model for other states, counties, and cities that would like to enact smoking bans or to strengthen those bans that they currently have.

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