Belmont is set to make history by becoming the first city in the nation to ban smoking on its streets and almost everywhere else.
The Belmont City Council voted unanimously last night to pursue a strict law that will prohibit smoking anywhere in the city except for single-family detached residences. Smoking on the street, in a park and even in one's car will become illegal and police would have the option of handing out tickets if they catch someone.
The actual language of the law still needs to be drafted and will likely come back to the council either in December or early next year.
"We have a tremendous opportunity here. We need to pass as stringent a law as we can, I would like to make it illegal," said Councilman Dave Warden. "What if every city did this, image how many lives would be saved? If we can do one little thing here at this level it will matter."
Armed with growing evidence that second-hand smoke causes negative health effects, the council chose to pursue the strictest law possible and deal with any legal challenges later. Last month, the council said it wanted to pursue a law similar to ones passed in Dublin and the Southern California city of Calabasas. It took up the cause after a citizen at a senior living facility requested smoke be declared a public nuisance, allowing him to sue neighbors who smoke.
The council was concerned about people smoking in multi-unit residences.
"I would just like to say 'no smoking' and see what happens and if they do smoke, [someone] has the right to have the police come and give them a ticket," said Councilwoman Coralin Feierbach.
The council's decision garnered applause from about 15 people who showed up in support of the ordinance. One woman stood up and blew kisses to the council, another pumped his fist with satisfaction.
"I'm astounded. I admire their courage and unanimous support," said Serena Chen, policy director of the American Lung Association of California.
Chen has worked in this area since 1991 and helped many cities and counties pass no smoking policies, but not one has been willing to draft a complete ban.
"I feel like the revolution is taking place and I am trying to catch up," Chen told the council.
The decision puts Belmont on the forefront of smoking policy and it is already attracting attention from other states.
"You have the ability to do something a little more extraordinary than Dublin or Calabasas. I see what they've done as five or six on the Richter Scale. What the citizens of Belmont, and of America, need is five brave people to do something that's a seven or eight on the Richter Scale," said Philip Henry Jarosz of the Condominium Council of Maui.
"The whole state of Hawaii is watching" he said.
Councilman Warren Lieberman said he was concerned the city will pass a law it cannot enforce because residents will still smoke unless police are specifically called to a situation. Police cannot go out and enforce smoking rules, he said.
"It makes us hypocrites by saying you know you can break the law if no one is watching," Lieberman said.
However, both Feierbach and Warden argued it is the same as jaywalking, having a barking dog or going 10 miles over the speed limit. All are illegal, but seldom enforced.
"You can't walk down the street with a beer, but you can have a cigarette," Warden said. "You shouldn't be allowed to do that. I just think it shouldn't be allowed anywhere except in someone's house. If you want to do that, that's fine."
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