S.F. Could Improve its Anti-Smoking 'Test Score' -- By Forbidding You To Smoke In Your Own Home

Categories: Government, Health
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You're under arrest, mister...
Earlier this week, the American Lung Association released its annual "Tobacco Policy Report Card," grading cities on how effectively they limit smoking. The city of Richmond -- which is cursed with a reputation as a great place to have a cigarette shot out of one's mouth -- turned around its F grade last year and got an A. San Francisco, meanwhile, got a C.

Obviously, that leaves lots of room for improvement -- and San Francisco is a city that bristles at the description "average." And yet, improvement may only come via giving the government the ability to intrude in your life to a degree many might feel is downright creepy.

At this point, we should note that writing about municipal tobacco policies isn't easy. It'd be hard to find people more well-meaning than the American Lung Association -- and, conversely, you won't find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than Big Tobacco. And yet, when you advocate that people be forbidden from lighting up a cigarette even within their own homes -- as the American Lung Association does -- you're crossing into uncomfortable territory.

Serena Chen, the American Lung Association's Bay Area regional director for tobacco policy, notes that most East Bay cities already have laws on the books forbidding smoking in apartment buildings' hallways and common spaces. San Francisco does not -- though many landlords forbid it -- and that's a large reason why the city received an F grade in the "smokefree housing" category.

Richmond, meanwhile -- now the model city for anti-smoking advocates -- has a law on the books that will kick in on Jan. 1, 2011 forbidding apartment-dwellers from smoking even within their own homes. Unless, of course, they're smoking medical Marijuana. Well, who would have thought it would come to this? Back in the old days, you needed to block the vents and put a towel under the door if you were smoking pot. Now you can toke to your heart's content -- but lighting up a pack of Chesterfields is against the law.

While the vast majority of San Francisco apartment dwellers probably already signed away their right to smoke indoors via their lease, there's something unsettling about the government dictating to tenants -- and, for that matter, landlords -- that one cannot undertake in a legal activity within his or her own home. For those who live along major San Francisco arteries, meanwhile, the notion that one is endangering his or her neighbors' health by lighting an indoor cigarette is somewhat tempered by the layers of filthy black soot from thousands of passing cars that coats the buildings' exteriors.

Such a law hasn't yet found a San Francisco sponsor -- though it sounds alarmingly like the product of a Gavin Newsom power nap dream. Supervisor Eric Mar, meanwhile, has proposed curtailing smoking in outdoor dining areas and doorways, and closing up loopholes in state law (you can still smoke in a hotel lobby, oddly enough, points out Chen).

Finally, if San Franciscans lose the right to smoke in their own apartments -- what's left? Parks and beaches are out. Proposed regulations regarding restaurants and doorways could transform a walk down the street into an impromptu re-enactment of Lombard Street. You sure as hell can't ask for a light from your bartender.

We wonder -- are condemned prisoners in San Quentin's death chamber permitted one last smoke? Or would that be too much to ask?

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