Escondido gets serious about smoke-free

No, no, no we won't be smoking or vaping outdoors in Escondido no more./File

The Escondido City Council voted unanimously on March 5 to move forward with an ordinance prohibiting smoking and vaping in outdoor dining areas, public places including sidewalks, and public events such as parades.

The smoke-free policy will come back for final approval on April 1 and, if approved, will become effective 30 days later. A new policy requiring all tobacco retailers to obtain a license from the city will be presented to council members on April 15.

“Congratulations to Escondido for becoming the first North Inland city to take these vital steps to protect residents, visitors and restaurant workers from toxic secondhand smoke, “ said Lisa Archibald, Tobacco Control Program Manager for Vista Community Clinic.

“Escondido is the first in North Inland but will not be the last, Archibald said. “We are also working with community members from San Marcos to enact similar protections.”

Only El Cajon and Coronado in San Diego County currently prohibit smoking on public sidewalks. State law already prohibits smoking in certain areas and allows cities and counties to make stricter regulations.

During the council meeting, Cecilia Arias reported that staff from Vista Community Clinic visited all 140 Escondido restaurants with outdoor dining areas and found that only 78 were voluntarily smoke-free. “As a resident of Escondido, I would like to feel protected from secondhand smoke when I dine out,” she said.

“It’s time,” Councilwoman Olga Diaz said. “It’s really gross to have to walk through a cloud of smoke.”

 Of the twelve people who spoke at the council meeting, including several students who attend Escondido schools, eleven expressed their full support for the ordinance. One speaker, who said he smokes, opposed making sidewalks smoke-free but supported the policy’s other provisions.

“If the city desires to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke by creating smoke-free environments, it can do so while striking a reasonable balance between the needs of persons who still smoke, and the need of nonsmokers to breathe smoke-free air,” Assistant Director of Planning Mike Strong told the council in a report. “This would protect the public from nonconsensual exposure to secondhand smoke in and around public spaces in the City.”

In 2019, according to Strong’s report, 61 cities and counties in the state adopted and updated tobacco control policies.

Recently, the American Lung Association issued a report grading all municipalities and counties in California on how well they protect their residents, businesses, and other community members from tobacco products based on a review of local codes. In the report, Escondido received an overall “D” grade, which includes “F” grades in components related to “Smoke free Housing” and “Reducing Sales of Tobacco Products.”

To be fair, many local cities did not do well in the report. Receiving overall “F” grades were Carlsbad, Imperial Beach, La Mesa, Poway, Santee, and the unincorporated parts of the county. Scoring highest were El Cajon (A rating) and Solana Beach (B).

More than a year ago, the city hosted several meetings for business owners after more than 500 notices were sent out, the report to the council said. The response regarding new smoke-free laws was positive during the meetings and in follow-up correspondence.

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