Citing the ill health effects of secondhand smoke, Gov. Pete Wilson on Monday banned smoking in most state buildings--including the prisons and thousands of offices from San Diego to Crescent City.
Wilson’s edict--in the form of an executive order signed by the governor--applies to all indoor premises leased or owned by the state, except buildings controlled by the courts, the Legislature or the state’s two university systems. The ban will take effect Dec. 31.
Although many state buildings already prohibit smoking, the policy has been applied on a case by case basis at the discretion of building managers. The new order takes the form of an outright ban, applying to more than 20,000 buildings where about 180,000 state workers are employed.
“Secondhand smoke threatens the health of non-smoking state employees,” Wilson said. “It is the nation’s third leading preventable cause of death and raises the costs for employers--in this case, the taxpayers who employ our public servants.”
Wilson cited a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report on secondhand smoke, which says passive inhalation of tobacco smoke causes an estimated 3,000 fatal cases of lung cancer each year in the United States.
“We’re not interested in prohibiting adults from smoking if they want,” said Wilson, who smokes an occasional cigar. “But smokers shouldn’t impose their habits and their smoke on their co-workers.”
Smoking in the workplace, the governor added, increases cleaning costs, damages furniture and carpets, and raises the risk of fire.
After signing the order, Wilson tacked up a symbolic no-smoking sign on the door to his suite of offices, where smoking indoors was already prohibited. Other Capitol offices will be permitted to allow smoking to continue because they are under the control of the Legislature, though some individual legislators and other office managers prohibit smoking.
The Assembly banned smoking on the floor several years ago, but the rule is routinely ignored by a handful of lawmakers.
The most dramatic effect of Wilson’s order is likely to be in the state prisons, where more than 110,000 inmates and 13,500 guards live and work in closely controlled conditions.
Although inmates still will be able to smoke outside in prison yards, their access to those yards is limited. For some prisoners, the indoor ban may make it all but impossible to smoke. In addition, many correctional officers who work eight-hour shifts indoors without a break will not be able to smoke.
Corrections officials from Santa Clara County and the state of Vermont, which have recently implemented jail and prison smoking bans, said the transition will go more smoothly if the guards and inmates are given counseling and support to kick their habit before the ban takes effect. A state official said no plans are in place for such support now but that there might be by the end of the year.
Jim Austin, vice president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, which studies prison issues, applauded Wilson’s order, saying it is part of a trend that is beginning to build momentum across the country.
Austin predicted “a very short-term period of problems"--perhaps a month or so--until the prison population adjusts to the change.
“Smoking has always been part of the prison culture,” Austin said. But he added: “The prisons and jails that have gone to no-smoking rules have found them to work quite well.”
An inmate rights lawyer based in San Quentin also praised the ban, with reservations.
“Our only real concern is that the department make some provision to allow prisoners the opportunity to smoke if they desire, in a place that would not cause other people harm,” said Donald Specter, director of the Prison Law Office.
A lobbyist for the state prison guards said the change will be difficult for some correctional officers but that the guards union would support it.
“We’ll work it out,” said Jeff Thompson, a lobbyist for the California Correctional Officers Assn. “It will mean some behavior modification, but we will just have to work with it.”
Wilson was immediately challenged to follow up on his action by supporting legislation that would ban smoking in all California workplaces--public and private. The bill is being pushed by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman, a Brentwood Democrat who listened as Wilson bemoaned the damaging effects of secondhand smoke.
But Kassy Perry, a Wilson spokeswoman, said the governor does not support the wider ban.
“He’d like to encourage workplaces throughout the state to go smoke-free,” Perry said. “But it’s really up to the workplace to decide that.”
Friedman said Wilson’s position was “a big mistake” that would be bad for the health of California workers and would subject employers to increased workers’ compensation claims from employees exposed to smoke on the job. But he said he would work to change the governor’s mind on the bill, which is supported by a broad coalition that includes the California Restaurants Assn.
“I think this executive action indicates that the governor understands the ill health effects of secondhand smoke,” Friedman said. “I find that encouraging.”