SLO to ban smoking in public areas

Smoking will soon be banned from nearly all areas open to the public in San Luis Obispo, the City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night.

Under the new law, which would be effective May 20 after it is given final approval at the council’s April 20 meeting, smoking would be prohibited in indoor and outdoor areas frequented by the public, including sidewalks, parking garages, bars, restaurants, stores, stadiums, playgrounds and transit centers.

Lighting up in outdoor areas would be banned in areas that are within 20 feet of indoor areas.

There are a few exceptions: the ordinance would not ban smoking from private residential units and designated hotel and motel rooms.

Existing tobacco retailers would be “grandfathered” in, allowing the businesses to operate as they currently do as long as their owners install a ventilation system within six months.

That exception directly affects The Sanctuary Tobacco Shop, which has operated on Chorro Street since 1973.

“I’ll just have to put in a system that will hopefully satisfy everyone,” owner Doug Shaw said. “My business is about hospitality. If my customers are not able to smoke, then it’s a big deal.”

Councilman John Ashbaugh voted against the proposal, saying he preferred the ordinance as written without the change regarding tobacco retailers. The original proposal would have exempted tobacco retailers where the business has more than 75 percent of its gross sales from sale of tobacco products.

The citywide ban puts San Luis Obispo in the same class with two dozen other California cities that have banned smoking from all areas frequented by the public, including multi-unit residential areas.

“Tonight is not an opportunity for San Luis Obispo to catch up, but to be a leader,” said supporter Christina Lefevre, health education specialist for the county Public Health Department.

Although San Luis Obispo’s ordinance would not ban smoking in private residences or apartments, it would prohibit smoking in common areas of multi-unit residential complexes.

In December, the council voted to ban smoking in Mission Plaza, the downtown creek area and the city’s parks. Council members also directed staff to return in a few months with a comprehensive plan.

“The question was how far it should go,” said Brigitte Elke, the city’s principal administrative analyst. Limiting the ordinance to the downtown area could have caused confusion over which areas of town the law covered.

The council’s action comes 20 years after San Luis Obispo became the first city in the nation to ban indoor smoking in public places.

Currently, more than 100 cities have adopted more stringent ordinances prohibiting smoking from outdoor recreation areas. Locally, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Morro Bay and Pismo Beach have banned smoking from public parks, beaches, open space, sports facilities, skate parks, biking trails and dog parks.

The ordinance would also allow smoking in outdoor areas in which no non-smoker is present and, due to the time of day or other factors, it’s not reasonable to expect another person to arrive. Bars that don’t serve food could designate a smoking area located at least five feet from any doorway.

Police will not actively enforce the smoking ban but may issue citations for violations.