Claremont Rejects Proposal to Ban Public Smoking

The Claremont City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to reject a proposal that would have amended the city’s No Smoking Ordinance to include a ban on smoking in outdoor public places.

The Community Services Commission drafted and presented the City Council with a proposal that stated that smoking would be prohibited in “restaurants’ outdoor dining areas (enclosed or not enclosed, including sidewalk tables where food is served or consumed), outdoor bar/pub patios, clubs or waiting lines within 20 feet from such lines, hotel common areas, the Village Plaza including all walkway arteries entering the plaza, farmers’ market and outdoor public gathering places for planned events.”

According to City of Claremont Management Analyst Stacey Niemeyer, the ban would have extended to restaurants on the Claremont College campuses, as well as college events like Pitzer’s Kohoutek and other campus events that required a city permit.

State law already prohibits smoking in all enclosed workplaces, including restaurants and bars. However, Niemyer said after reviewing smoking bans in other Southern California cities, including Los Angeles, Burbank, Santa Monica, Pasadena, and Beverly Hills, the Commission determined that a more comprehensive ban on smoking was the right decision for Claremont.

Voicing health concerns about second-hand smoke, Niemeyer said the Commission was strongly in favor of the proposal, voting 6-1 to send it to the City Council for review.

“The Commission recognized that there are a lot of communities that are already addressing this in Southern California,” said Niemeyer. “We are Claremont, we are a leader, people follow us, and we need to get going on this.”

However, Claremont Mayor Linda Elderkin expressed unease over how such an expansive ordinance would affect Claremont’s many businesses, especially in such a difficult economic time.

“I am more concerned about this from the point of view of the businesses,” said Elderkin. “I do think it will impact our businesses in a significant way and we are really in a serious economic situation. To do things at this point in time that adversely affect our businesses seem extremely odd to me.”

Claremont business owners and residents attended a public City Council meeting Tuesday to discuss the proposed ban. While some Claremont businesses like the Back Abbey and Some Crust supported the ban, others like the Hip Kitty, showed up at Tuesday’s meeting to voice their concerns.

“We have a lot of patrons who come to the Hip Kitty specifically to sit outside in the patio, have a drink and a cigarette, and enjoy the music,” said Hip Kitty owner Nancy Tessier. “Even a prosperous restaurant has maybe a five to eight percent profit margin. Us being an entertainment venue, we have even a smaller margin. So, if we lose just 10 percent of our patrons, it’s going to be really hard for us to keep it going.”

Some council members also expressed discomfort with enacting a law that infringed on the personal liberties of Claremont residents.

“Ultimately, as much as some think my job is to protect public health, as an elected official I also have to try to protect every individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Council Member Corey Calaycay. “I am not a fan of nanny government. Putting the business issues aside, I’m just not a big fan of regulating every aspect of people’s lives and in light of that I cannot support this effort.”

Council Member Larry Schroeder, who cast the sole vote in favor of the ban, said he believed that there are some instances when the government must regulate personal liberties.

“To me smoking is not a personal choice, but a public health issue,” said Schroeder. “The public good often trumps personal choice. We mandate the use of safety belts in vehicles because it’s the right thing to do, we make motorcycle riders use helmets because it’s the right thing to do.”

Although no students from the Claremont Colleges attended the City Council meeting Tuesday to express their opinion, some students said they understood the city’s reasoning in rejecting the proposed ban.

“I would love to live in a smoke-free world, but people smoke and they smoke outside because they can’t smoke inside,” said Liz Carnathan PO ’11. “I don’t know if it makes sense to start preventing people from smoking in certain areas outside as well.”

However, other students were more critical of the Council’s rejection of the proposed ban. Although Nina Vertlib PO ’11 said that people should be free to make their own lifestyle choices, she added that other people should not be forced to suffer the consequences of those decisions.

“In the case of smoking bans, it seems reasonable to say that while people are at liberty to smoke—and I have no problem with that liberty—they don’t have the right to make me smell the smoke,” said Vertlib. “Because this ban discusses public places which are frequently unavoidable to passers-by, it is unreasonable to demand that non-smoking bystanders would be subjected to lifestyle choices they did not make.”

Although the Council said they would be open to discussing compromises that might include a less comprehensive ban, Tuesday’s vote closed any discussion on a smoking ban in Claremont for the time being.

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