Berkeley Smoking Ban

at 11:35 PM

Berkeley's current proposal for smoking restrictions in multi-unit housing is so full of loopholes it reads like a tobacco industry dream. I wondered about the weaknesses, and was told that the 10% smoking sections were necessary to address social justice needs. Well, I like social justice! I read through several years of committee meeting minutes and saw that the proposal's weaknesses were based on several myths:

• A concern that there would be a rash of evictions in the wake of smoking restrictions, even though no evidence of this exists;

• A concern that formerly homeless people would be barred from transitional housing because they smoked, even though smokefree housing only asks smokers to step outside;

• A concern that formerly homeless smokers with mental disabilities will be less able to step outside to smoke, even though studies show that people with mental disabilities are as capable of adjusting to smoking restrictions as anybody else.

Homeless people have a high rate of smoking, but it's no accident. The tobacco industry targets homeless and mentally disabled people the same way it targets other marginalized groups, donating cigarettes to shelters and psychiatric clinics and encouraging service providers to oppose smoking restrictions, hoping its donations will make it look compassionate and generous.

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When the tobacco industry targets the gay community, or the African-American community, people object. Targeting homeless and mentally disabled people gets little such reaction. Tobacco industry rhetoric is prevalent in the discussions of Berkeley's embarrassing proposal, which sidesteps the opportunity to protect countless lungs and lives.

Berkeley should lose its leadership role in public health policy if it thinks one can put a smoking section in multi-unit housing and still call it "smokefree." "90% smokefree" is a contradiction in terms. The tobacco industry once created a special brand of cigarettes targeting homeless and mentally disabled people. Perhaps it's time to launch a special Berkeley brand called "Irony."

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With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

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