Activist, Experts Question the Efficacy of State Smoking Ban

Activist, Experts Question the Efficacy of State Smoking Ban
A man smokes a pipe as he walks through Washington Square Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Jan. 26, 2005. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Chris Karr

The text of a new smoking ban law that will go into effect next year is nearly identical to a different bill that failed to become law this year. Meanwhile, some say the new law may not produce its intended effect.

The bill that successfully passed, Sen. Steven Glazer’s Senate Bill 8, shares the same name with the bill that failed, Assembly Bill 1718, authored by Asm. Marc Levine and co-authored by Asm. Lorena Gonzalez.

Both are called “State parks: state beaches: smoking ban,” and similar versions of both bills were vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017.

“It reminded me in college where someone obviously plagiarized another student, but you couldn’t tell who took from who,” Dana, an anonymous source who works at the State Capitol, told The California Globe earlier this year, referencing the 2017 versions. “There were suddenly two oddly similar bills out there.”

According to activist and U.S. Army Veteran Scott St. Blaze, a bartender by profession, the legislators did not plagiarize one another—they essentially plagiarized him.

St. Blaze authored a preliminary version of the smoking ban bill in 2016. With former State Senator Marty Block’s help, St. Blaze’s language became Senate Bill 1333, which was later vetoed by Brown.

St. Blaze believes that despite using some of his previous work, the current legislation is not up to snuff.

“People need to understand how weak and poorly written this new law truly is,” he told The Epoch Times.

Specifically, St. Blaze cited the “ultra low” $25 fine and the religious exemption that “will enable anyone to smoke … anywhere one desires within a state park.”

“There is no smoking ban in the entire nation with even remotely similar language,” he added. “[This] sets a dangerous precedence regarding the dismantling of other smoking bans nationwide.”

“While shopping the bill proposal around in 2016, I met a staff member from Sen. Steve Glazer’s Office,” St. Blaze told the Globe. “They had assured me that if I were to allow Glazer to ‘author’ the bill in the 2017 session, Glazer’s people and I would work closely together to get the bill passed.”

In the interim, the original language for the bill came across Levine’s desk.

“I was never asked whether it was okay for Levine to use my bill,” St. Blaze said. “I immediately phoned Glazer’s office, who got Glazer’s big dogs on it. Glazer’s people [said] Levine had agreed [to] back off.”

But St. Blaze said he did not back off.

“It was Levine who, almost immediately, began to make changes to the legislation,” St. Blaze told The Epoch Times. “Over time, however, Glazer started to mirror what Levine was doing.”

As St. Blaze began to take notice of the fact that the original piece of legislation that he developed was becoming diluted and misconstrued, he spoke up. And, in doing so, he found himself cut off.

“Once [Diego Lopez, a legislative aide for Asm. Levine] found out that I was publicly criticizing his boss’s butchered version of my bill, he quit taking my phone calls and replying to my e-mails,” he said.

After Asm. Levine’s staff was contacted several times for an interview, Terry Schanz, Levine’s chief of staff, told The Epoch Times: “Unfortunately, Mr. Levine is unavailable for comment.”

Schanz did refer to a statement released on Oct. 12 wherein Levine is quoted saying, “We have waited long enough to protect California’s public health and natural environment. The time to act is now.”

“Glazer’s office had fluctuated between hating my guts and outright denying my existence,” St. Blaze said.

St. Blaze claims that he attended a 2019 committee hearing wherein Glazer claimed that he “has no idea who [Scott St. Blaze] is, and have never heard of him before … I doubt that he has any connection to this legislation whatsoever.”

“I was sitting right there,” St. Blaze said. “The whole thing was surreal.”

Glazer told The Epoch Times: “I drafted the final version of Senate Bill 8 with the input of my staff and various stakeholders. ... We also heard and took into consideration the views of Mr. St. Blaze, who was an early and avid supporter of the concept and a person with whom we had worked on earlier versions of the bill.”

“While the bill that Gov. Newsom signed may not have gone as far as we and others had hoped, it stands as a landmark achievement,” he added. “The law will reduce litter, improve public health and prevent damaging fires.”

John Mott, Chairman for the Legislative Advocacy Committee for the California State Park Ranger’s Association, told The Epoch Times: “Frequently, when legislation is introduced, it often changes form during the legislative process based on the myriad number of interest groups we have in California. ... And I think that’s what happened to Scott St. Blaze’s legislation when he introduced it.”

However, some experts and officials question the enforceability of the law.

“It is, at best, poorly written, and, at worst, it doesn’t reflect the public health and environmental health concerns that the legislation that was supposed to be addressing,” Dr. Jeremiah Mock, Professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who researches tobacco reduction in California and Asia, told The Epoch Times.

Like St. Blaze, Mock pointed out how the law specifies that the smoking “prohibition does not apply to paved roadways or parking facilities of a state beach or unit of the state park system.”

“It’s akin to going back to the days of setting up smoking areas inside of restaurants, which were absolutely useless in terms of protecting the public’s health, because it’s shared air volume,” Mock said. “The containments fill the air volume. The same thing will be true when you’re talking about parking lots.”

“People don’t go to state parks and state beaches to smell smoke,” Mock added. “[For] people who have small children, elderly people, people who have respiratory problems to get to the property, [or] the beach, they’re going to have to … park, open their doors and be exposed to these contaminants that are in the air. For some people they trigger asthma—it’s quite serious.”

Another fundamental problem with the legislation is the vague and ill-defined exemption for “the good faith practice of a religious belief.”

“There’s nothing in this legislation that specifies who has the authority to make the determination of whether or not somebody … is using the product in connection with a good faith practice of a religious belief,” Mock said.

During a meeting with legislators, Mott pointed out that a religious exemption would establish “a dangerous precedent.”

“We made a point … that this religious exemption to smoking was unique in smoking bans in California,” Mott said. “We did research in LA County, Northern California, different municipalities that have smoking bans—none of them have a religious exemption.”

An additional flaw, according to Mock, is the specification of “heated tobacco” in connection with religious ceremonies.

“Heated tobacco is actually a very new technology,” he said. “[It] was just introduced in September by Philip Morris International under their global brand called IQOS.”

The peculiar wording raises the question, what religious faith or ceremony could reasonably be related to such a recent technological innovation?

“There’s no requirement on the part of somebody who’s smoking to validate [or] provide any justification,” Mock added.

“I think the intent [of the law] was good, I’m just concerned with the final product and how valuable it’s going to be in reducing smoking in California state parks,” Mott said. “We’ll see what happens, but I think it could have been written in a tighter manner.”

“Overall it’s good that the state is heading in this direction,” Mock said. “It’s better that the legislation passed than had it been vetoed and never come up again or never been passed.”

However, St. Blaze suggests that the official wording of the law is crucial.

“I don’t care who authors the bill, just as long as it is well-written and effective,” he said.

SB 8 will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Chris Karr is a California-based reporter for the The Epoch Times. He has been writing for 20 years. His articles, features, reviews, interviews, and essays have been published in a variety of online periodicals.
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