Esther Kang

Manhattan Beach City Council pushes for city-wide public smoking ban

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No SmokingAt the urging of local girl scout troop members, residents and environmental advocates, the Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously for a citywide ban on smoking in public places in an effort to reduce cigarette litter and protect nonsmokers from secondhand exposure.

The expanded ordinance, which by Council direction will include electronic cigarettes and disallow designated smoking areas, will return to the Council in April for final approval.

“I do believe this is a case where policy will influence public behavior, and that is our role here on the City Council,” Mayor Amy Howorth said. “People may still smoke…but if we make it harder for them, it curtails behavior.”

Currently, smoking in Manhattan Beach is prohibited on the beach, The Strand, Veterans Parkway as well as in parks and certain places of public employment, such as bars and restaurants. Under state law, smoking is also prohibited in any outdoor area within 20 feet of a main exit or entrance of a public building.

These existing regulations fall short on various levels, explained Sona Coffee, the city’s environmental programs manager. The city last month received an “F” grade in the 2014 State of Tobacco Control report released by the American Lung Association.

Coffee argued Tuesday that an update to the existing smoking ordinance is necessary to benefit both environmental and public health. Not only does cigarette litter make up nearly 40 percent of trash collected during Heal the Bay’s Annual Coastal Cleanup Day, the California Air Resources Board has classified second-hand smoke as a toxic air contaminant at any level of exposure, Coffee said.

There’s another incentive: With its ban on plastic bags, polystyrene containers and public smoking, the city would be eligible for a three-year extension to meet the Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board’s Total Maximum Daily Load regulations for debris that ends up in the ocean through storm drains.

The State Water Resources Control Board estimates that nearly 915,000 cigarette butts are dropped across Los Angeles County every month. In Manhattan Beach, some 20 storm water drains lead straight into the ocean.

Many speakers, including several council members, alluded to personal experiences that informed their stance: Mayor Howorth and Councilmembers Tony D’Errico and Wayne Powell all said their parents were avid smokers who died from smoke-related diseases; one girl scout said her younger brother, who suffers from asthma, was once hospitalized due to smoke exposure — their grandmother was a smoker.

According to Coffee, about 11 percent of adults in Manhattan Beach smoke regularly.

More divisive was the topic of e-cigarettes, battery-operated devices that release nicotine in a vapor. While cities like Los Angeles, Long Beach and Alhambra have adopted them into the definition of cigarettes, resident Peter Yollin said outlawing e-cigarettes would be an overreach.

Esther Schiller, associate director of Granada Hills-based Smokefree Apartment House Registry, cited the World Health Organization’s statement that chemicals used in e-cigarettes have not yet been fully disclosed. But she suggested it is better to be safe than sorry.

“We’ve been through this before with regular cigarettes,” Schiller said. “It’s taken only, what, 50 years to realize how dangerous they are. Do we have to go through that again with electronic cigarettes?”

Whether the city should create designated smoking areas was another area of concern. While Councilmember D’Errico suggested soliciting feedback from the community before deciding to forgo them, Mayor Howorth maintained that business owners have no desire to be near a designated smoking location.

Councilmember David Lesser said he was more inclined toward a comprehensive ordinance as opposed to adopting a citywide prohibition to avoid appearing like a “nanny state.” A comprehensive ordinance, which specifically lists the places where smoking is prohibited, does not cover all public areas; cities like Hermosa Beach, Santa Monica, Burbank have taken this route.

Hermosa Beach resident Dency Nelson encouraged the council members to consider the blanket approach.

“We did it first, you can do it better,” Nelson said.

The updated smoking ordinances are designed to be self-enforcing, but city staff suggested possibly making violations punishable as an infraction. The city will soon launch a public awareness campaign for both visitors and residents about the new regulations, Coffee said.

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