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Big blow for city smokers

Matthew Artz
Tuesday October 08, 2002

Smokers who light up outside public buildings would be subject to $100 fines if City Council passes a tough, new anti-smoking ordinance. 

The measure, which council will consider tonight, would prohibit smoking within 20 feet of any doorway or air intake vent on a public building, such as offices or shops. Smokers would still be allowed to walk past a public building with a lit cigarette, but could not stop and smoke near a doorway. 

The new measure was put forth by Mayor Shirley Dean in February and is returning to council after study by city staff. 

For the rule to take effect, building owners would have to post a “no-smoking” sign at all doorways and air vents to alert smokers of the rule. 

Proponents say the measure, which is similar to ones passed in 23 states and several other Bay Area cities, will protect non-smoking office workers from harmful secondhand smoke. 

“As smokers cluster around doorways the secondhand smoke is sucked back into the building through the doors and vents,” said Marcia Brown-Machen, director of Berkeley’s Tobacco Prevention Program. “Exposure to secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of death in the United States,” she said, noting that it has been connected to heart disease, cancer and respiratory problems. 

Smokers have mixed opinions about the pending ordinance. 

“I’m for it,” said Mark Howard who was puffing away outside the office tower at 2150 Shattuck Ave. “I don’t want to subject my smoke to someone else.” 

On the other side of the spectrum Ray Dornkus, president of the California chapter of smoker’s rights organization Fighting Ordinances That Restrict Smoking, expressed contempt for the proposal. 

“They’re trying to push us into the street,” he said, adding that once a worker is outside, car exhaust presents a far greater health risk than secondhand smoke.  

Dornkus also wondered what smokers were supposed to do during the rainy season. On many buildings, the only shelter for smoking is in the doorway, he said. 

If the ordinance is approved, it would add an extra layer to Berkeley’s already stringent anti-smoking codes. All city-owned buildings currently prohibit smoking within 15 feet of doorways, and smoking is prohibited at outdoor work sites and restaurant patios. 

Although the measure spells out escalating fines for multiple offenders, Alex Schneider, director of environmental health, said he does not expect the city to actively enforce the measure. 

“We’re going to rely on people obeying the signs,” he said, noting that a lack of staff prevents strict city enforcement. 

Businesses would be punished for not posting “no-smoking” signs provided by the city, he said, but as long as the sign is posted, only the smoker would be liable for punishment. 

City Council must approve the measure twice, at separate meetings, before it is adopted.