Sonoma County is considering banning smoking in apartments and condominiums, on county-owned property, in parks, campgrounds and beaches and at many other outdoor public and private areas where people gather.
The ordinance, which seeks to reduce the effects of second hand smoke, would affect all areas of the county outside city limits and prohibit smoking at public events such as fairs, festivals and parades, outdoor dining areas and service areas such as ATMs, bank teller windows, telephones, ticket lines, bus stops and taxi stands.
"There is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke," said Lynn Walton, manager of the Healthy Communities section of the Sonoma County Public Health Division.
"It is a toxic chemical, a Class-A carcinogen. That's why the (proposed) ordinance has the strong protections and provisions that it does."
The new rules, if approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, would represent some of the strongest smoking restrictions in the county, on par with restrictions in Sebastopol and Rohnert Park.
Sonoma County's 1994 smoking ordinance received an F as an overall tobacco-control grade from the American Lung Association.
At the time, the Sonoma County ordinance was similar to rules adopted in every city or town — except for Windsor and Cloverdale. It bans smoking in public workplaces and public areas.
In late 1994, after voters defeated a state initiative backed by Phillip Morris that sought to rein in smoking bans, a state-wide restriction on workplace and restaurant smoking took effect on Jan. 1, 1995. Three years later the state banned smoking in bars.
"We have essentially been denying 85 percent of the population that doesn't smoke the right to breathe clean air in public places and in their own homes too," said 3rd District Supervisor Shirlee Zane.
Zane said the proposed changes to the smoking ordinance are long overdue. The impact on the county administration complex in Santa Rosa, where 3,500 people work, would be significant, she said.
"Making it a no-smoking campus is really important," she said.
With so few people smoking these days, some say the ordinance is a sign of the times.
Jerry Fischman, owner of Birmingham Bed & Breakfast in Kenwood, said his business has a strict no-smoking policy that 99 percent of his lodgers either agree with or accept. He has a small smoking area near a tree toward the front of the property.
"I'm all for it," said Fischman, who described himself as a "life-long non-smoker."
Under the new rules, smoking on county property and unincorporated parts of the county and in multi-unit housing would be allowed only in specifically designated areas. These restricted areas would have to be at least 25 feet from an operating doorway or window, or vent, recreation areas used by children, playgrounds, tennis courts, swimming pools and other recreational areas.
The ordinance would also ban smoking at public events, including fairs, festivals, parades and farmer's markets. The Sonoma County Fair already has a no-smoking policy, except for designated areas.
Also, many county regional parks, such as Hood Mountain, have smoking restrictions due to fire danger, and all nine county playground have a buffer zone around them.