Mixed Smoke Signals in San Francisco

Last weekend, San Francisco’s new antismoking ordinance—which bans smoking in public places like bus stop shelters, outdoor dining areas and A.T.M. lines — went into effect.

But while San Francisco city government is willing to restrict the use of the product, a committee of the the Board of Supervisors drew the line Monday at setting further restrictions — geographic ones, this time — on the cigarettes.

The ordinance, introduced by Mayor Gavin Newsom earlier this year, would ban any new licenses to sell tobacco within 1,000 feet of a school.

Stores that already have a license would not be affected, but if a store owner sells the business to someone who is not a member of his or her family, the new business owner would be subject to the restrictions.

Of course, it is already illegal to sell tobacco to minors in San Francisco. Katy Tang, a legislative aide for Supervisor Carmen Chu, said the supervisor believed that “there are laws and enforcement measures on the books right now” and that “those should be followed through with before implementing something like this.”

A week from Tuesday, the full Board of Supervisors will vote on the proposed ordinance, which the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee voted against.

Tony Winnicker, communications director for Mayor Newsom’s office, said that they would be working with the board in the next week to find ways to modify the ordinance. Mr. Winnicker said that the mayor agreed with the board that enforcement of existing regulations was important, but that the proposed ordinance would fill a different role by taking aim at access to tobacco by young would-be smokers.

If the ordinance did pass, its initial effects would be minor — more symbolic than anything else — since it would exempt stores that already have a permit. But in a city as dense as San Francisco, where over 70 percent of tobacco retailers are within 1,000 feet of schools, the proposal could have an impact over time, as new retailers go into business and existing stores change hands.

“If you want to have long-term goals about having a tobacco-free city, these incremental steps are the more politically feasible way to go,” said Karen Licavoli-Farnkopf, vice president of the anti-tobacco group Breathe California. “It may be symbolic, but it has a wider impact on decreasing what the norm is around tobacco.”

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on the ordinance, but it is also looking at the long-term implications of the ban. Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of the chamber, said he was concerned that the ban might give some retailers an unfair competitive advantage.

“Somebody is going to benefit from being the last person standing,” Mr. Lazarus said, while acknowledging that some merchants in the city have not been conscientious about restricting the sale of tobacco products to minors.

In a 2009 California Department of Public Health survey, 13.2% of San Francisco retailers admitted to selling tobacco to minors.

But how far should the city — or any government — go in regulating what individuals can buy or sell? The Supreme Court announced today, for example, that it would decide whether California could prohibit the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

“We’re used to it in San Francisco, the concerns about soda consumption, fat content, cigarette, alcohol,” Mr. Lazarus said.

He added, “Those things all on the surface are good restrictions. But when you add them up, you get a lot of government oversight in daily living.”

Then there is marijuana, the sale of which could be legalized, regulated and taxed if voters approve a ballot initiative along those lines in November.

Ms. Licavoli-Farnkopf said opponents of government regulation were selective about what government interference they would tolerate.

“If people don’t like it,” she said, “they should be complaining about clean water or clean air. There are a lot of really good things that have moved public health forward that have to do with government regulation.”

source: bayarea.blogs.nytimes.com

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