SF smokers kicked to curb, by the cars


By Adam Lesser

San Francisco smokers will be hit with the latest in a long lines of restrictions starting April 25, when they’ll be kicked to the curb, out by the cars whose tailpipes are at least as dangerous as secondhand smoke.

But drivers haven’t been as easy to demonize as smokers. Light up within 15 feet of a building entrance and you’ll be breaking the law. Other spots where smokers will be barred include outdoor areas at cafes and restaurants, farmer’s markets, and charity bingo games (grandma can take her wheelchair to the curb if she needs a puff).

But pot smokers need not fear. The new law maintains a provision allowing you to light up in licensed dispensaries. Smoking patios at bars are still okay, though smokers probably shouldn’t get too comfortable.

            The San Francisco Department of Public Health frames the smoking debate in terms of the impacts of secondhand smoke. And there’s some good data there. People tend to think lungs and cancer when they think smoking, but the real problem with second hand smoke is heart attacks.  A 2005 estimate from the California EPA put the number of heart attack deaths from second hand smoke at 3,600 annually. Second hand smoke contains a host of toxins from benzene to arsenic.

But it’s hard to know the incremental benefits of moving smokers to the curb. Almost all of the positive data on public health improvements from smoking bans has come from measures the city has already taken. But Mele Lau-Smith of DPH gave me a preview of the potential next battleground: third hand smoke.

“The new science that’s coming out on third hand smoke is interesting. Third hand smoke is everything that clings to furniture and hair and takes longer to dissipate. They’re smaller particles that get deeper into the lungs,” she says. The term was coined last year in the journal Pediatrics and a 2010 paper showed that nicotine reacts with nitrous acid to form carcinogenic molecules that hang around long after a smoker has left the room.

            So the news gets worse for smokers, and the anti-smoking crusade to completely eliminate smoking gains an inch. The smoking prevalence rate in California is among the lowest in the country at 14.3 percent. Most states are in the 18-20 percent range.

            And while it’s all well and good, one wonders if there are other problems in the air besides second hand smoke. Choosing to live in an urban area like San Francisco lowers one’s life expectancy by two years, and one of the major reasons for that is auto exhaust and illnesses related to poorer air quality.

            Mark Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, believes the government should keep regulating until smoking is eliminated. But when comparing deaths from automobile emissions versus second hand smoke, he added, “If you look at the mass of the automobile exhaust, then you’re looking at a much bigger figure than second hand smoke. Vehicle exhaust is still way under regulated for addressing health concerns.” Over 2 million people die globally from air pollution each year. About 500,000 die from second hand smoke.

            In the end, Jacobson says it comes down to combustion. When you start burning, you release toxins that eventually hurt or kill people. It doesn’t matter if it’s diesel fuel, gasoline, or tobacco. Combustible products harm public health, and in the case of oil, the environment.

Smokers have proven ideal targets for taxes. San Francisco smokers pay $2.08 in taxes on every pack of cigarettes. When you’re in the minority and the government needs cash, it’s a political no brainer. A 20 cent cigarette tax was tacked on by the Board of Supervisors last October, done under the argument that the money was needed to clean up cigarette butts. Recent proposals to add a local 10 cent tax on gasoline in order to help various cash strapped public transit agencies haven’t found much traction.

So smokers, enjoy the summer. It’ll be the last summer you can light up after an outdoor sunset meal. The smoking ban at restaurants won’t be implemented for another six months.

But come November you’ll be enjoying that smoke out by the curb, where you’ll also be treated to some car exhaust. But, hey, at this point you’re probably all in anyways.


"Mark Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, believes the government should keep regulating until smoking is eliminated."

That, in essence, is the goal behind the government's actions on most "health-related" issues like obesity and smoking. Yet, unlike with smoking, the government knows next to nothing about how the human body processes various substances which it tries to regulate. For example - the war on trans-fats. It was less than 20 years ago that the government was telling Americans to drop butter and switch to trans-fat laden margarine. Now it's saying coconut oil is preferable, Essentially - the "public health experts" know next to nothing about this issue. Which they're fixated on because they've nearly won the 'war" against smoking and they need to justify their budgets.

What is the end goal here? No one has ever outlined what the goal of "health-related" measure on the part of the government is. Is it to create super humans who never experience illness - which is impossible? Is it to increase life expectancy - and if so, why?

Posted by Lucretia the Trollop on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

San Francisco's new ordinance prohibits smoking in common areas of multi-unit residential buildings. This means children who live in apartments won't be exposed to secondhand smoke from adults who smoke in their hallways, laundry rooms and staircases. Cigarette smoke does not stay in one place. Secondhand smoke causes asthma in children, and there is no cure for asthma.

I applaud San Francisco for passing this law to help stop exposure of children to Secondhand Smoke.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2010 @ 10:42 pm

While I applaud bans on smoking in public areas (people should be allowed to smoke, the rest of us just shouldn't have to breathe it),, this has always seemed like a smokescreen (how's that one?) for keeping people's minds off the harms caused by driving, which are far worse and far more numerous. The comparison should not be myopically limited to the effects of car exhaust on the human body compared to that of tobacco smoke. Driving causes many more harms than that, like global warming, oil spills, destruction of natural areas for oil drilling, etc. If given the choice, I would much rather eliminate driving than smoking in public areas. Focusing on the latter considering the massive environmental and ecological harms caused by driving is myopic and selfish.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Apr. 10, 2010 @ 10:04 am

Always the fallback for people who want to restrict one behavior or another - The Children. The Children have been turned into repulsive little cult objects in this country who are political pawns for those who want to regulate the lifestyles of others.

If you really wanted to protect The Children you would ensure we had decent schools in San Francisco and a functioning and affordable higher education system for them to enter when and if they graduate. Not force smokers to stand in the middle of the street when they want a cigarette.

Posted by Lucretia the Trollop on Apr. 10, 2010 @ 11:32 am

If you have a problem with these new restrictions you should have wrote about them four months ago when they were working their way though the legislative process. They don't appear overnight.

Posted by Chris on Apr. 10, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

Things don't work their way through the legislative process in San Francisco.

The mayor or a supervisor dreams up another invasive scheme following the last invasive scheme around the same issue and it gets passed sooner or later.

Solving real problems is tough, harassing smokers, putting warning on cell phones, etc... is much easier.

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 10, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

When is San Francisco going to be destroyed by that killer earthquake?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 11, 2010 @ 9:25 am

When you smoke, you poison and disrespect yourself.
When you make others smell your smoke, you are poisoning and disrespecting us.

Posted by sfdotfoot on May. 02, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

think about it this way the government keeps taxing cigarettes so they can make more money. Then they turn around and limit where a person can smoke and will probably try to ban them eventually. Seems like a bunch of idiots to me. The higher prices and smoking bans cause more people to quit every day. How is that making them money? Secondly, Yes! I am a smoker and I try my hardest to keep away from nonsmokers when I'm smoking a cigarette but I'm tired of the pansy ass cry babies thinking that there right not to smell it is greater than my right to buy and smoke a cigarette. They are getting way more pollution from automotive exhaust than they ever will by being around a cigarette. And if it's the air quality they are worried about then quit burningthe oil in the south, and pass some laws about carpooling so they can get less cars on the road. I may be mistaken and probably am but I have heard nothing about cigarettes being a leading factor in global warming thank you for reading this.

Posted by william on Jul. 25, 2010 @ 7:13 am