Editorial: Smoking ban an important step to take

San Luis Obispo made history when it became the first city in the nation to outlaw indoor smoking in public places — and it should forever be proud of helping to alert the nation to the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Tonight, the City Council has another opportunity to protect public health. It will consider banning smoking at several outdoor venues, including city parks, sports facilities, trails and open spaces, as well as Mission Plaza and the downtown creek.

The city won’t be breaking ground this time — several other jurisdictions have adopted similar bans — but it’s nonetheless an important step and one the City Council should not hesitate to take.

Once again, this is first and foremost about public health. According to a 2006 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. And lighting up outside doesn’t make the danger go away; studies have shown that even outdoors, nonsmokers in the vicinity of a lit cigarette show measurable, harmful effects from that exposure.

For that reason, we would like to see the smoking ban eventually extended to downtown sidewalks and benches as well. We understand that SLO merchants are worried that it could be another blow to business, at a time when they can least afford it. That may be a reason to postpone a more extensive ban, but the idea should not be abandoned.

We urge the city to adopt the ban on smoking in public recreation areas and to set a time to revisit the issue — say, one year from now — to consider extending it to downtown sidewalks and benches too. Smokers may see this as yet another punitive measure aimed at curtailing their legal right to light up. It’s not.

We don’t believe that smokers should be treated as pariahs. But we also don’t believe they have the right to jeopardize the health of others.