Within a month, visitors to San Luis Obispo County parks, campgrounds and other outdoor places won’t be able to smoke.
Arguing that the rights of individual smokers end when their habit endangers the public health, the county Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance Tuesday that outlaws smoking at mini-parks and neighborhood parks in unincorporated communities, in parking lots near county buildings and at other locations.
The vote was 3-2, with Bruce Gibson, Adam Hill and Jim Patterson in favor, and Frank Mecham and Paul Teixeira opposed. The ordinance takes effect 30 days after Tuesday’s vote.
Quoting Abraham Lincoln, and stressing the broad public danger of second-hand smoke, Hill said “the wolf’s freedom doesn’t extend to the sheep’s life.”
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“There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke,” Health Agency Director Jeff Hamm and General Services Director Janette Pell said in a report.
The ordinance forbids smoking at “structures owned, leased, concessioned or otherwise operated directly or indirectly by the county (and) all land appurtenant to those structures, including but not limited to parking lots, walkways, landscapes and patios.”
The ordinance allows the county health officer to designate exemptions, and supervisors Tuesday did carve out exceptions for county airports as well as at the psychiatric health facility. State parks would not be included in the ban.
The vote followed months of work on the proposal, during which county health and parks leaders outlined it at community meetings around the county.
San Luis Obispo County Health Officer Penny Borenstein said those discussions led the county staff to tone down the ordinance. She said that originally, at the urging of the Health and Parks and Recreation commissions, they had considered outlawing all tobacco products.
Hill and Gibson said they were sympathetic to that proposal in order to get a handle on smokeless tobacco, or snuff, which they said tobacco companies are marketing to hook younger people.
“We want to keep our children from being exposed,” Hill said.
But Borenstein said there had been “animosity” to that and other aspects of the proposed ordinance. She warned that the county should do as much as it could without creating so much opposition that there would be no forward movement at all.
Although protecting public health is the primary consideration, she said, it can best be accomplished “without overreaching.”
The discussion Tuesday revolved largely — and vigorously — around the charge by some supervisors and others that the ordinance intrudes on personal freedom.
Mecham called it “an overreach,” and Templeton resident Bill Pelfrey said it made “second-class citizens out of smokers.”
Mike Brown of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business asked, “Just how far should you as a government go in regulating?”
He asked whether red meat, french fries, butter and fast-food franchises would be next. “Where will this end?”
Teixeira said protecting children against tobacco or snuff is a parent’s job, and added, “Not all lung cancer is related to smoking.” Mecham agreed.
But Hill countered that there is no credible health expert who does not consider second-hand smoke a public health problem.
He said smoking bans elsewhere have reduced the number of people smoking and that it is government’s responsibility to protect the health of its citizens.
Prior to the discussion, Borenstein delineated the history of efforts to control smoking in the United States, which began nationally in 1957 with a surgeon general’s report.
Since then, she said, it has been linked authoritatively to heart disease, lung cancer and other lung problems, and other ailments. Smoking and its effects kill thousands of people annually in the United States.