California Considers Smoking Bans for Cars, Apartments

Published May 1, 2006

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) on January 26 voted unanimously to declare secondhand smoke a “toxic air contaminant,” setting the stage for more sweeping smoking prohibitions in a state already known for its intolerance of smokers.

Board May Stretch Authority

Upon declaring a substance a toxic air contaminant, CARB is authorized to enact measures to restrict exposure to the contaminant. California already prohibits smoking in offices and restaurants, and many California communities additionally ban smoking in open-air parks and on beaches.

The lone speaker at CARB’s January 26 hearing, Paul Knepprath of the American Lung Association, called on CARB to make it unlawful for people to smoke in hotels, motels, and even their own apartments. Additionally, Knepprath argued, CARB should make it a crime for a person to smoke in his or her own car.

While asserting substantial regulatory authority regarding outdoor air, CARB spokesman Jerry Martin acknowledged the agency may have limited authority over indoor environments. “Our authority is very limited indoors, so that is something our legal staff would have to research,” said Martin, according to a January 27 Los Angeles Times report. “We do have authority to regulate cars, and some would say that includes inside them.”

Cited Controversial Studies

To justify its new classification of secondhand smoke as a toxic air contaminant, CARB pointed to controversial studies linking secondhand smoke to health ailments such as cancer and respiratory illnesses. Many other studies, however, dispute such asserted links.

As the January 27 Contra Costa Times observed, “The most controversial of the findings is that secondhand smoke can increase the risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women. Established groups such as the American Cancer Society say there is not enough evidence to draw this conclusion.”

CARB’s premenopausal breast cancer finding “conflicts with a 2004 report by the U.S. surgeon general,” added the January 27 New York Times.

“The secondhand smoke claims were demolished by a 1998 World Health Organization study,” said Sheldon Richman, senior fellow at the Future of Freedom Foundation. “A ten-year meta-study, in which the World Health Organization analyzed all the research and studies to date, failed to find a clear link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer. The activists tried to hush it up, and their media allies were all too happy to not report it. The truth was bottled up when the activists and the media alarmists did not get the results they wanted.”

Harmless to Others Outdoors

Even if secondhand smoke health fears proved justified, such smoke has very little impact on humans outdoors.

“No studies exist that show that exposure outdoors leads to any increased risk of tobacco-associated illness,” said David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, for the January 27 New York Times story.

Family Rights at Stake

“It seems illogical to stop people from smoking in their own homes or their own cars even when they are by themselves,” said Richman. “It opens up a tremendous can of worms. Why stop with smoke? It seems arbitrary to start and end with smoke, unless the extremists plan not to end it with smoke. What is next, a child’s diet, drink, religious practices, general lifestyles, or any other ‘vices’ that children might be exposed to?

“If the government is going to begin managing the family, allegedly for our own best interests, that shifts family authority from families to bureaucrats,” Richman pointed out. “This is a frightening proposition in which we risk losing the larger picture and face unseen effects further up the road.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.