Smoke Signals: When to Yield, Where to Go

Remember when smoking a cigarette on a bus or an airplane did not necessarily mean you were a felon? When lighting up at work didn't involve leaving your desk, or the building? When smoking a cigarette at a party did not entail huddling with other smokers out on the fire escape?

Except in a bar, smoking in public has become a perilous pastime. Long gone is the innocent age when smoking was not only acceptable but considered glamorous.

There is no denying the statistics that smoking causes more than 450,000 deaths each year. Another figure from the Center for Disease Control, more alarming to many, is that environmental tobacco smoke, or secondhand smoke, causes 53,000 deaths in nonsmoking persons in the United States each year.

Reaction to this last figure has produced, in the past decade, a flurry of smoking ordinances, all designed to provide a healthy environment for everyone.

With few alterations, all North County cities have adopted the smoking ordinance passed by San Diego County. Unincorporated communities, such as Bonsall, Fallbrook and Valley Center, also adhere to the county's smoking ordinance.

Smokers have to hunt for a place where they can light up without fear of reproach--publicly and privately. Many smokers even have had to negotiate at-home smoking policies.

Knowing when, where and where not to smoke almost requires a score card. Sometimes the plethora of no smoking signs doesn't clear the air.

For instance, six days out of seven, it is OK to smoke anywhere, anytime on the premises of the Comedy Nite club in Oceanside, but you will be ever so politely encouraged to stub your butt if you try to light up on a Tuesday during the smoke-free showcase.

At Leo's Little Bit O' Country night club in San Marcos, where about 70% of the patrons are smokers, cigarette smoking is permitted throughout the premises. However, by some tacit agreement, all the smokers head for the outdoor patio when they want to feel the bronchial clutch that only an unfiltered Camel will bring.

The following restrictions apply to all of the cities in North County as well as areas governed by the county.


In eateries with more than 20 seats, an "adequate" amount of seating capacity sufficient to meet the demands of its nonsmoking patrons must be designated.

Restaurateurs with fewer than 20 seats have the option of making their establishment completely smoke-free, designating a nonsmoking section or allowing smoking throughout the premises.

In the unincorporated county areas, 50% of restaurant seating must be provided for nonsmokers. This rule does not apply to establishments with fewer than 20 seats.

Most city smoking ordinances require that restaurants provide a physical barrier to separate smoking and nonsmoking sections. However, restaurants are not required to have separate ventilating systems for the two sections.

Signs indicating that smoking is allowed only in designated areas must be posted at the entrance or inside the restaurant. The restaurant is also responsible for letting customers know if they have a nonsmoking section.

Even those traditional smoky dens--coffee houses--have, for the most part, gone the way of the smoke-free zone.

If Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were to resurrect and take a tour of some of the North County coffee houses, they wouldn't recognize the atmosphere through all the clear air. Metaphor Coffee House in Escondido is one of the few places that allows smoking indoors.

"We have an art gallery and a performance area in the back that is nonsmoking, but that is to protect the art work," said entertainment director David Howard. "We allow smoking in the front and there is no door separating the two areas."

Howard said the only smoke not allowed is cigars and clove cigarettes because of their heavy aroma. About 50% of the coffee house's customers smoke, and there have been no problems.

"We've got smokers tolerating nonsmokers and nonsmokers tolerating smokers. What are you going to do?" Howard asked jokingly. "Most of our smokers are courteous enough that they get out of the way if they see their smoke is intruding on someone's space."


Smoking is not allowed in any city or county government-owned building.

Kathy Greene, an employee of the city clerk's office in Encinitas and a smoker, says that not being able to smoke at City Hall has not presented a hardship for her. City Hall has been smoke-free for more than two years now, and Greene and other smokers have their cigarettes in designated outside areas equipped with ashtrays.

"I understand that people hate smoking," Greene said. "I don't like working in a smelly place and I smoke outside, it doesn't bother me. I don't even smoke in my house because I don't like the smell."

Greene said she smokes on her lunch hour. She's generally too busy during the day to take time out for a smoke break.


Smoking is not allowed in shared work spaces. Furthermore, businesses have the option of making their work site entirely smoke-free and they do not have to provide a smoking area for those employees who partake.

Smoking is permitted in private offices as long as that office has floor-to-ceiling walls and a solid door that closes. Partitions, for example, do not a private office make.

If a smoking section or room is established, a sign must be clearly posted at the entrance. Likewise, all nonsmoking sections of a business must be clearly marked.

It is up to businesses if they want to provide a smoking section in their communal lunchroom or cafeteria. Either way, the facility has to be clearly marked.


Each city and unincorporated area restricts smoking in any place where the public is served.

Hospitals, health care facilities, restrooms, elevators, auditoriums, theaters, hair salons, indoor service lines, public meeting rooms, elevators, pharmacies and libraries fall under this heading.


Smoking is still permitted in such open spaces as parks, beaches, sidewalks, streets and alleys. At the Del Mar Fairgrounds, smoking is permitted everywhere except in the exhibition halls.

Just a few years ago in Del Mar, however, those outdoor public places narrowly escaped being snuffed out for smokers. A former mayor, Richard Roe, garnered enough petitions to put on the ballot a measure that would have banned smoking in all public places. It was handily rejected in a November, 1987, election. Had it passed, it would have been the nation's most sweeping anti-smoking law.


Smoking is permitted in hotel and motel rooms and in meeting and assembly rooms rented to hotel guests. However, hotel dining rooms and coffee shops still have to follow the restaurant rule of providing a nonsmoking section for customers.

With fewer people smoking, hotels have joined in the disappearing smoke act. The Rancho Bernardo Inn has designated about 30% of its 87 rooms as nonsmoking.

"We've been doing this for six years," said Rushton Hays, the inn's general manager. "It's so popular, we are adding more nonsmoking rooms this fall."


State law prohibits the sale of tobacco to anyone under the age of 18. Most North County areas let that suffice.

However, the state law does not carry a penalty for minors who have tobacco in their possession. For this reason, Vista last September passed its own law making it illegal for minors to possess tobacco. The courts determine the fines for violators.

Escondido also has revised its smoking ordinance this year, giving more teeth to the state law regarding minors. The city ordinance now reads that no one shall place or operate a coin operated machine that dispenses tobacco products in an area accessible or open to minors. For example, the cigarette vending machine that can be found in many bowling alleys or restaurants, will have to be relocated to the bar area where minors are not permitted.


No one in the history of North Countydom has apparently ever been cited for an infraction of a smoking ordinance.

Despite the fact there are monetary penalties for smoking scofflaws--in some cities as much as $100 for first time offenders and up to $1,000 for four offenses within a year--no minor, no grown up, no restaurant and no business has ever been slapped with a fine or hauled off to jail.

Part of the reason is that law enforcement agencies, who are responsible for policing the average citizen, and code enforcement officers, who keep businesses in line, simply do not have the time to hunt down errant smokers. Too, most code enforcement officers agree that more important than collaring violators is clearing the air and heightening awareness and cooperation.

"We have gotten a few complaints from people mostly in regards to their working areas," said Richard De La Cruz, code enforcement officer for Carlsbad. "We want to be as tactful as possible with the smoking ordinance so we go out and let management know what is expected of them.

"We call back in two weeks to assess the situation and make sure they have the required nonsmoking sections. Everyone is cooperative. No complaint has ever been pushed to the formal level," said De La Cruz.

Most of the complaints Encinitas code enforcement officer Cindy Adams receives are about restaurants that do not have the required nonsmoking section. So far, educating restaurant management has been effective.

"Frequently, restaurants aren't familiar with the requirement," Adams said. "We call and tell them the requirements to provide a designated nonsmoking area. Everyone has complied within a specified time frame."

Adams said that if a restaurant doesn't comply, a violation notice would be sent out. If that notice goes unheeded, a citation for $235 is issued. Nobody has ever received a citation, she said.

Prudent business practices also keep people in line. With the trend away from smoking in the past decade, restaurants want to accommodate the majority nonsmoking clientele.

"For the most part, the business realizes the bad publicity that would befall them if they wanted to push the issue," said Martin Grover, a lawyer in the Escondido City Attorney's office. "Rather than go through that, they comply."

If You're Smoking Mad

If you are concerned that a business or an individual is violating a local ordinance, call one of the phone numbers listed below for more information or to file an anonymous complaint.

Carlsbad: 438-1161 or 438-2808

Del Mar: 755-9313

Encinitas: 944-5050

Escondido: 741-4608

Oceanside: 966-4460

Poway: 748-6600

San Marcos: 744-4020

Solana Beach: 755-2998

Vista: 726-1340,

Ext. 408

Unincorporated Areas : 236-2705.

. . . or Ready to Kick the Habit

If you want to quit smoking, you can call the San Diego County Smokers' Helpline at 1-800-7-NO-BUTTS; in Spanish at 1-800-45-NO-FUME.

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