I live in Marin County, one of the most affluent counties in America. It is an extremely well-managed community (although budget cuts might have their effect here too). Crime is low, streets are clean and well-maintained, and lovely flower beds and hanging pots brighten public walkways. Our libraries are well-stocked and well-staffed, our town offices pleasant to work with. It is a prime place to live, that’s for sure.
Across the Bay from me is the City of Richmond, California. Richmond has some major industry, since Chevron has a ginormous refinery there (ugly during the day, a bizarre fairyland, because of the lights, at night). It also boasts a vast regional Social Security office, a Kaiser hospital, a cool model train museum in the charming historic Pt. Richmond district, some shopping centers, a BART station, and other stuff of ordinary life. Sadly, Richmond also has one of the worst crime rates in California. It’s no surprise that, in Marin, crime stories in the news routinely report that the perpetrator wasn’t local, but came over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge for the easy pickings here.
Beset by troubles, the Richmond government is taking seriously its responsibility to . . . stamp out cigarette smoking. Yes, one of the most violent cities is apparently directing significant energy and resources to ensuring that its citizens do not get one last cigarette before their gang banger executions:
Richmond, not usually associated with stellar air quality, won praise Tuesday for protecting its residents’ lungs by enacting some of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the country.
“We have lots of challenges in this city, but we can also be at the forefront of change,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. “We managed to pass some groundbreaking legislation and we’re very proud of this recognition.”
The American Lung Association lauded Richmond for turning the organization’s annual tobacco-control grade from an F to an A in just one year, due largely to a first-in-the-nation law the City Council passed in July that bans smoking in apartment buildings.
The city also barred pharmacies from selling cigarettes and banned smoking in parks and other public spaces.
“What this says about Richmond and its leadership is extraordinary,” said Jane Warner, head of the American Lung Association’s California branch. “They took a bold move, expecting to get political backlash, but in reality they didn’t. It’s phenomenal.”
Richmond, home to one of the largest oil refineries in the country and numerous factories, has some of the worst air quality in the region, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Richmond has the region’s second-highest rate of sulfur dioxide, which is linked to lung cancer and respiratory problems. Only Crockett has a higher rate.
McLaughlin said the city’s authority over industrial emissions is limited, but tobacco legislation is relatively easy to enact. The smoking ban in apartments met almost no opposition.
I loathe cigarettes with unrivaled fervor, but I find it very disturbing that a citizenry that is beset by the worst types of violent crimes should be denied the right to smoke in their own homes. I also find disturbing the fact that the City is manifestly directing a great deal of energy towards dealing with a problem that is, as much as anything, a personal choice, rather than a public crime. I know I’ll hear about the children who are saved from a life smothered by Daddy’s and Mommy’s cigarette smoke, but I still think that it’s better if Mommy and Daddy aren’t gunned down.
Measures taken by Marin’s cities and county government to curtail cigarette smoke have improved slightly but continue to fall short, according to a new report card from the American Lung Association.
The annual study gave five Marin cities failing grades, while four got D’s, two received C’s and Novato, which passed sweeping tobacco control legislation in 2008, garnered a B, one of only 11 jurisdictions statewide to do so. The marks were a slim improvement over the association’s 2008 report, in which seven of Marin’s cities received failing grades.
The report card based its grades on three categories: laws to encourage smoke-free air outside places like restaurants, movie theaters, and ATMs; regulations on smoking in multi-unit housing; and reduction in sales of tobacco products, particularly to minors, through the creation of local licensing of tobacco sales.
Perhaps our local Marin governments are just paying lip service to this whole ALA thing, since the fact is that there is little smoking in Marin. I can go weeks without smelling cigarette smoke. You see, in Marin, we have the strongest possible disincentive to smoke: it’s socially unacceptable — and that is a very good reminder that societies can police themselves simply by setting acceptable standards of behavior without the need for government intervention.