Morro Bay may restrict outdoor smoking

Morro Bay is moving ahead with new regulations that would ban smoking in all outdoor public places.

A divided City Council voted last week to consider a law that would make Morro Bay only the second jurisdiction in the county to comprehensively regulate secondhand smoke. Another ordinance would require permits for tobacco retailers.

The council voted 3-2 to have City Attorney Rob Schultz draft the regulations for formal consideration. Mayor Bill Yates and Councilman George Leage dissented.

If adopted, Morro Bay would become the 57th city or county in the state to have a comprehensive ban on outdoor secondhand smoke exposure. San Luis Obispo is the only government in the county that already has such a comprehensive ban, said Kathleen Karle, a division manager with the county Health Department.

“Different jurisdictions often adopt different levels of restriction, but that’s the way many cities are going these days,” she said.

Some other jurisdictions in the county regulate public smoking to lesser degrees but stop short of comprehensive bans. For example, Atascadero and Arroyo Grande ban smoking in recreation areas, Karle said.

A comprehensive outdoor smoking ban is one that targets all public places where a nonsmoker could be exposed to secondhand smoke. These include dining areas, building entryways, public events, recreation areas, service areas such as ticket lines, sidewalks and work sites. State law already prohibits smoking in almost all indoor workplaces.

“I agree with going forward with this process,” Councilman Noah Smukler said. “My main interest is to protect public health and the youth. I’ve heard stories about kids at the park picking up cigarette butts.”

On the other hand, Yates said he opposes banning smoking on sidewalks. For example, someone in a downtown bar might have to walk three or four blocks to find a place to legally smoke, he said.

“No smoking on sidewalks is going too far and is not visitor-friendly,” Yates said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The second regulation under consideration is more common. It requires that retailers obtain a city permit annually in order to sell tobacco. The permit would require a fee sufficient to cover costs of administration.

Draft ordinances are scheduled to go back to the council for review March 20, Schultz said.