Just outside of Ventura County lines, lighting a cigarette in public is going up in smoke as a thing of the past. Two weeks ago, the city of Carpinteria implemented a new law that bans tobacco use in almost all outdoor locations. The city of Calabasas in 2006 famously passed one of the toughest of all anti-smoking laws in the nation, as offenders face the possibility of a misdemeanor charge and residents are encouraged to report offenders to officials.

Yet, within the county, three of 10 cities have comprehensive outdoor ordinances on managing tobacco use, in accordance with criteria developed by the Center for Tobacco Policy and Organizing (CTPO). The cities of Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and Moorpark prohibit tobacco use in at least five of the seven outdoor places identified by the CTPO: dining areas, business entryways, public events, recreation areas, service areas, sidewalks and outdoor worksites.

“In these cities, if you smoke, you can potentially be cited,” said community services coordinator Vicki Gonzales, Ventura County Public Health. “Cities like Ventura have attempted to protect parks and recreation areas by adopting resolutions, but there is no enforcement mechanism in place.”

Ventura City Manager Rick Cole said that the city is more concerned with promoting healthy lifestyle choices than instituting more bans.

“I think that if awareness about preventative health is raised, it will help take care of itself without ordinances that we don’t have resources to enforce or political will to impose,” said Cole.

All three of the community colleges in Ventura County have adopted policies to protect students from secondhand smoke exposure.

But for some residents in the county, the idea of there being scores of outdoor smoking ordinances should be viewed as an assault on individual freedom.

“These draconian laws are a joke and most of the time based on hysteria,” said Robert Best, western regional director, Citizens Freedom Alliance Inc. “Smoke dissipates in outdoor settings, but they’re suggesting you can get cancer by walking by a smoker. Some of these laws are so bad that you can’t even smoke on a smoking patio at a cigar lounge.”

The California Air Resources Board has already declared secondhand smoke to be a toxic air contaminant, and groups like Americans for Nonsmokers Rights (ANR) are actively lobbying for smoke-free environments.

“A lot of these policies are not just about secondhand smoke exposure, but environmental health protection and establishing healthy communities,” said Liz Williams, project manager for ANR. Though the National Toxicology Program has identified secondhand smoke as a known human carcinogen, and most environmental protection coalitions have supported studies that show damaging consequences of secondhand smoke, tobacco enthusiasts like Best quickly point out what they see as hypocrisy.

“They aren’t banning pre-’60s automobiles or barbecues that put carcinogens in the environment,” said Best, “But they go after smokers because they are a non-popular, easy target. I remember that as being called ‘discrimination.’ ”

According to the California Department of Public Health, the adult smoking prevalence rate in Ventura County is at 13.0 percent compared to the statewide rate of 14.3 percent, which means 87 percent of Ventura County does not smoke. Conversely, the youth smoking prevalence rate in the county is at 15.4 percent, which is higher than the statewide rate of 14.6 percent.

Gonzales said such numbers are alarming and that VCPD is working diligently with the Ventura County Tobacco Education and Prevention Coalition to educate about prevention and institute policy change with funds used from Proposition 99, the 25-cent tobacco tax passed in 1988. The county, she said, currently does not have a tobacco retail licensing ordinance in place, which would require every retailer who sells or will sell cigarettes or tobacco products to obtain a retailer’s license. Irresponsible tobacco retailing is the likely reason for the spike in youth prevalence rates in the county, Gonzales said.    

To participate in upcoming quit smoking programs and receive free Nicotine Replacement Therapy Products, one must live or work in Ventura County. Programs are free. To register, please call Sandra Tovar at 652-3376.

Simi Valley: Every Wednesday beginning June 8. Eight 1- hour sessions, 5:00-6:00 p.m., Sierra Vista Clinic, 1227 E. Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley.

Ventura: Every Monday beginning June 6. Eight 1- hour sessions, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Community Memorial Hospital, 2809 B Main street, Ventura.

shane@vcreporter.com