Columnists : Marylee Shrider

Friday, Jan 16 2009 07:31 PM

Marylee Shrider: Let's start with enforcing smoking laws we already have

Yet another report came out this week, confirming that Kern County is a miserable place to live.

Just last week, Bakersfield made Forbes.com’s list of America’s 10 most boring cities. This week we have the news that we were fourth in the nation in property foreclosures in 2008, and, on Thursday, the American Lung Association of California gave Kern County a big fat “F” for its failure to protect its people from second-hand smoke.

Honestly, how do we live with ourselves?

The Forbes list is a bit of fluff based on the amount of media coverage cities get, so, by that measure, boring ain’t so bad.

Our number of property foreclosures is indeed a sad reality, but are we really, as one Associated Press story opined, “a haven for Californians yearning to light up in picnic areas and on athletic fields?”

No, we’re not. But we may be a haven for Californians yearning for small government and personal freedom.

Kern County already supports and adheres to state smoking laws, which even the ALA acknowledges are among the “strongest in the nation.” Granted, there is room for improvement, but if ALA’s most recent report card, and media coverage of it, conjures up images of Kern County hayseeds all but blowing smoke in children’s faces.

As always, when commenting on the subject of smoking, I must mention I am as repelled by the habit as anyone else. But let’s try, at least, to be fair — the ALA report card, which graded 297 cities in 30 counties, is so rife with Ds and Fs, it’s simpler to report who passed and how they did it.

In the entire state of California, only one city earned an overall grade of A — Glendale, in Los Angeles County. The county itself earned an overall grade of C, having, like Kern County, failed miserably in the Smokefree Housing category. Glendale, however, was awarded a B in housing and an A in Smokefree Outdoor Air.

How does a city or county earn an A in the category of Smokefree Outdoor Air? By simply declaring a complete ban on smoking in parks, beaches, sports fields, on trails and other recreational areas, with NO designated smoking areas.

Never mind that smoking, while nasty, is still legal.

A perusal of the report card shows while cities and counties, including Kern County, are making strides in reducing the sales of tobacco products, officials are not so quick to impose ordinances that will restrict a legal activity in areas where the possibility of harm is next to nil.

Which is exactly why such proposals didn’t get anywhere when brought before Kern County supervisors in 2007.

“The way the rules were last presented to us restricted a legal behavior even when it wasn’t harming anyone else,” says Supervisor Mike Maggard. “If it begins to harm someone else, then that’s a different story.”

We can do better, but we can do that by enforcing the laws we already have. Smoking is already prohibited within 25 feet of “tot lots” and playgrounds. So how about we post a sign or two that says so, for dolts too dense to know it?

Selling tobacco products to anyone under 18 is also illegal, so bringing the hammer down hard on those who do might go a long way in raising that overall grade.

Imagine — enforcing current smoking restrictions while protecting personal freedoms. Sounds like an A to me.

These are Marylee Shrider’s opinions, not necessarily The Californian’s. Her column appears Saturday. Call her at 395-7474 or write

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