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Bay Area Smokers Beware; a Crackdown Is in the Air

The governator smokes here

First published: February 22, 2010

Source: The New York Times

It was a typical photo of teenage mischief, posted on MySpace last fall, featuring four cheerleaders from California High School in San Ramon at a party. The event did not happen on campus or during class hours, but when the coach saw the picture, her reaction was swift: two-week suspensions from the squad.

The girls’ crime: smoking from a hookah — not any illegal drug either, but tobacco.

“The girls admitted to smoking tobacco,” said Eileen Mantz, the school’s athletic director. “This just holds them and their parents accountable.”

Ms. Mantz said the city had begun a new antismoking effort, and San Ramon is not alone. Plans are being advanced elsewhere in the area to up the ante against tobacco by punishing those even tangentially connected with smoking, like movie studios, and in some cases singling out those previously considered victims of cigarette companies.

To be on the California High cheerleading squad, the girls had signed a code of conduct that bans use or possession of “alcohol, controlled substances, steroids” and tobacco. Such contracts are common at schools, but enforcement based on an Internet photo revealed how intense the antismoking mood has become.

Caitlin Kawaguchi, a student reporter at Cal High, broke the story for the school paper, which then grabbed headlines on a national student journalism Web site. The fact that cheerleaders smoked, Ms. Kawaguchi said, was not a sign tobacco is hip on campus. “There’s really not a lot of pressure to smoke,” she said.

Still, two weeks without pompoms is a light sentence compared with what smokers in San Francisco may soon face.

To fight secondhand fumes, San Francisco is considering a ban on smoking outside within 15 feet of building entrances and places like A.T.M. lines and cafes.

In dense neighborhoods, plentiful in a city where buildings adjoin one another, smokers would be kicked to the curb, forced to stand near traffic. Business owners would be required to enforce the new rules and shoo away smokers outside their buildings.

Dr. Mitch Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, disagreed that such a policy represented a shift toward punishing smokers, and said it was not a step toward making smoking itself illegal.

“I believe in the Christian doctrine of don’t hate the smoker, hate the smoke,” Dr. Katz said.

He admitted that issuing fines would be problematic, but estimated that 90 percent of smokers would comply with the law.

Supervisor Eric Mar, sponsor of the proposal, said it was clear that attention was shifting to smokers, though he considers it tough love. “That’s exactly what it is,” Mr. Mar said.

Brian Millett, a smoker visiting San Francisco from rural Arcata, said the city’s concern about what passers-by inhaled was specious. “I don’t think it’s any more pollution than is coming out of these cars,” Mr. Millett said.

Smoking has no greater enemy than Dr. Stanton A. Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco. The entrance to Dr. Glantz’s office memorializes the timeline of the campaign against one of the world’s deadliest — and preventable — killers.

Dr. Glantz led the way to hold tobacco companies accountable for profiting from smoking, and did the same with Hollywood, helping expose and end product-placement deals that promoted cigarette brands in movies. His current Smoke Free Movies campaign wants films that include smoking to receive R ratings, which might substantially hurt their box office receipts.

“That’s the whole idea,” Dr. Glantz said.

His campaign has also bought full-page ads in Variety and The Hollywood Report to try to undermine “Avatar” in its quest for Academy Awards because of smoking in the film. When asked if his crusade cost the movie a recent Producers Guild award, Dr. Glantz said, “I hope so.”

“You shouldn’t be promoting addiction and death to 7-year-olds.” he said. “The movies are the largest single reason kids start to smoke.”

But Dr. Glantz’s fiery demeanor changed when he was told about the cheerleaders’ punishment. Suddenly, he appeared skeptical. It reminded him, he said, of efforts to prevent minors from smoking by making it difficult for them to buy cigarettes.

“We’ve shown it didn’t work,” he said.

Not every fire, or desire, can be snuffed by laws.

Article written by Scott James

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