Sonoma City Council mulls ways to curb smoking

Sonoma recently received an “F” from the American Lung Association for its lack of oversight on cigarette smoking – and some City Council members took it to heart.

“Wow, we are wanting,” Councilmember Laurie Gallian said Monday night, describing her reaction to seeing the failing grade.

Mayor Tom Rouse also was alarmed, so when Elizabeth Emerson, a North Bay anti-smoking advocate, asked if she and others could address the council about what might be done to improve matters, he said yes.

That led to testimony on Monday from cancer survivors, American Lung Association representatives and others, resulting in a 4-1 vote directing staff to investigate how the city might limit or ban smoking in certain areas, such as the Plaza.

Marin County “started with an ‘F’ too,” Emerson told the council. But in 2012, she and others convinced that county to ban smoking in all apartment and condo complexes throughout its unincorporated areas. Other limitations were implemented as well.

Marin County got an “A” in the latest report by the American Lung Association, titled “State of Tobacco Control 2014.”

Every year, the association assesses how much, or how little, cities and counties are doing to curb smoking based on local legislative efforts, and grades those government entities accordingly. Sonoma received virtually no points in any of several categories.

It joined two other towns in the county, Cloverdale and Cotati, that “haven’t done really any updates since the mid-’90s” when it comes to regulating smoking, said Pam Granger, North Coast advocacy manager of the American Lung Association in California, at the time the report was released. “I can’t really tell you why that is.”

On Monday, Emerson made the point that, “All of our campaigns, they were not about smokers. … We always have a nonjudgmental compassion towards smokers and help them quit.”

Speakers said the main purpose of banning outdoor smoking is to protect people from second-hand smoke – an ongoing problem in the Plaza and elsewhere in Sonoma, they agreed.

Lori Bremner, a Sonoma resident who volunteers with the American Cancer Society, told the council, “I’m a leukemia survivor, my mother is a breast cancer survivor, and I lost my father to a tobacco-related illness way too young.”

Bremner said her family avoids the downtown farmers market entirely due to second-hand smoke.

“It’s really not about the grade, it’s about the protection that grade represents,” she said.

A few others provided tragic personal stories on the effects of tobacco smoke, including second-hand smoke. But Mayor Pro Tem David Cook remained skeptical that the city would be able to do anything about it.

“There’s an enforcement issue,” he said. “We can’t even keep the dogs out of the Plaza. And we keep making rules.”

Councilmember Ken Brown, who admitted to smoking “an occasional cigarette,” said he supported looking into options. “Code enforcement is an issue, and I believe we can make it work,” he said.

Rouse agreed, stating, “Public health is the No. 1 concern here.”

“I am embracing this and I am ready to do the work,” Gallian said.

Following the vote, city staff was directed to provide research on the potential options and impacts of a smoking ban. A date for the matter to return to council was not set.