Sonoma City Council mulls ways to curb smoking

In order to protect people from second-hand smoke, the city is looking into options for limiting smoking on the Plaza and elsewhere in town. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

In order to protect people from second-hand smoke, the city is looking into options for limiting smoking on the Plaza and elsewhere in town. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune


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.


  • sonomajay

    I am not a smoker and have never smoked. But I am concerned about government prohibiting smoking outdoors and on one’s own property [e. g. non-public areas in condos]. If there was solid evidence of real hazards from second-hand smoke in these situations I might change my views, but for now it sounds like PC run amok.

    • David Eichar

      There are several studies on exposure to 2nd hand smoke outdoors and in apartments. Just search for “second hand smoke outdoors” and “second hand smoke apartment neighbor”.

      • sonomajay

        At David’s suggestion, I have now read abstracts of the Stanford study on second-hand smoke outdoors. I am persuaded that there is a risk if one is very close to a smoker. The study speaks of distances like 18 inches. Seems to me that this is addressable by setting up areas where smoking is allowed and where it is prohibited. This makes a lot more sense than saying the entire outdoors is reserved for non-smokers.

        On the subject of apartments and condos. It is essential to recognize that these are not at all the same. One is a rental unit and the other is owned by the person living there. In that case, one is attempting to ban smoking in one’s own home. to the best of my knowledge there is no evidence suggesting that smoking in anon-public areas of a condo building causes any damage to other folk than the smoker.

        I know that the County has ignored this distinction. Politics are not pretty. Otto von Bismarck said that “lovers of the law, like lovers of sausage would be well advised not to watch either being made”

        • Phineas Worthington

          Does the study account for other environmental hazards like vehicle exhaust? I have a friend who worked on a cadaver that was someone who never smoked and ran every day. When the lungs were examined, they were blackened like a smokers. She and her class deduced that it was the result of jogging for years in an urban environment with vehicle exhaust and soot.

  • Robert Piazza

    We have to accept the premise that government, who cannot balance a check book or fix the pot holes or spend money wisely, knows what’s best for us!
    No, I don’t smoke! I just object to government invading every facet of our lives.
    If they paid attention to what they were elected to do, we’d all be better off.

    • Phineas Worthington

      Agree %100

  • Paula Burkhart

    The Council could begin by encouraging enforcement of the anti-smoking laws we already have that are being ignored by restaurants such as The Swiss, where smokers sit immediately outside the entrance and smoke cigarettes, cigars, etc. every day. In California it is illegal to smoke within 20 feet of a doorway and many places, such as universities, etc. have extended that to 50 feet or more. So many children use the Sonoma Plaza playgrounds, and since they cannot control the behavior of adult smokers, I believe many residents would favor a ban on smoking in Sonoma Plaza. It would be a huge improvement and would eliminate the need to clean up after smokers who leave their cigarette butts on walkways, and even in the children’s playground areas!

  • Justincase Weego

    I totally agree with Mr. Piazza. Very well put, Sir. Mark my words, by the year 2060, They’ll be putting those chips in all babies born at the hospital. Freedom is a concept that can be looked at many different ways. If you think about it, with as many people as there are, in so many different walks of life, the Government does have to do something, whether it’s monitoring people, or whatever. But what results would you honestly expect to come from the Government where you can take your online defensive driving / DUI courses at home on the Internet, while you’re consuming cocktails and whatever else keeps you sane, and watching the war, LIVE on the TV?

  • Donn Dabney

    I see a city’s failure to comply with the Federal Governments expectations of behavior as a positive thing. More liberty for all of us, less tyrannical intervention from the nanny state which most of us have grown tired and weary of. Any local bureaucrats that attempt to take our freedoms away of any kind, will get an “F” grade from me at the voting booth…