Burbank looking to kick the habit in the new year

Times Staff Writer

As a teenager, Robert Phipps watched his mother and stepfather smoke. His friends smoked too. It seemed like the cool thing to do.

Today, Phipps, 66, who once burned through three packs a day, knows firsthand the dangers of tobacco smoke. He has survived two bouts with cancer.

Now the Burbank resident wants to warn others about the dangers posed by secondhand smoke. He and fellow resident Eric Michael Cap are pushing Burbank officials to follow the lead of two other Southern California cities -- Santa Monica and Calabasas -- and restrict outdoor smoking in public places. “It’s a health movement,” Phipps said.

In California, secondhand smoke kills 4,700 people every year, according to a 2005 report by the California Environmental Protection Agency and the state’s Air Resources Board. A 2006 U.S. surgeon general report also determined that there are no safe exposure levels to secondhand smoke.


Citing such statistics, Phipps e-mailed a 3,000-word memo to the Burbank City Council in August asking for an outdoor smoking regulation. He had read about Calabasas and Santa Monica’s efforts and believed it was time for Burbank to take a similar stand.

But no action was taken until Cap addressed the council on the issue in October, prompting Mayor Todd Campbell and two council members to direct the city’s staff to look into the matter.

Inspired by Calabasas’ action, Cap said he is pushing the smoke-free ordinance because of concerns for the health of his 4-year-old daughter, Jasmine. He said his family would like to visit the city’s parks and downtown without being exposed to secondhand smoke.

“I’ve been like a lot of people who have just grinned and beared it,” Caps said. “And then when I heard of one city doing it, I thought this was the time.”

Cap and Phipps crossed paths after Cap’s appearance at City Hall, and the two joined forces. Cap built an elaborate website,, which includes relevant statistics and background on the proposed ordinance.

Phipps, a lawyer, also wants to include on the website the steps he took to end his 12-year smoking addiction. His own experience with the hazards of smoking began in December 2003 when he was diagnosed with smoke-induced bladder cancer, 35 years after he had quit. “I thought, ‘I quit ... I’m exercising, I’m fit, I’m watching my diet. I get a physical every year,’ ” said Phipps. “It was a death sentence.”

The cancerous tumor was immediately removed, but another appeared in March 2004. It also was successfully removed.

Phipps said he got through chemotherapy and emotional anguish with the help of therapy, family members and support groups. “I don’t want to get cancer again,” Phipps said. “I get pains in my chest when I inhale [secondhand] smoke, and I wonder, is this the day the cancer” will start?

State law already bans smoking in numerous indoor locations and near government buildings. Burbank’s proposed ordinance could extend the ban to outdoor dining and bar areas, parks and within 20 feet of exits and entrances of non-government buildings. Waiting areas like bus stops, ATMs, kiosks and movie lines could also be included.

The City Council will review a draft ordinance in coming weeks. Public hearings are expected to start in February or March, officials said.

Campbell said most of the community feedback has been positive. But some believe the new proposal goes too far.

“It’s political correctness gone crazy,” said Dan Styles, as he puffed a cigarette near Burbank Town Center. “You are more likely to get run over in the street and killed than from the smoke from my cigarette.”

Others worry that a new law might hurt businesses.

“You do have a lot of smokers here,” said Steve Morales, manager of Smokin’ Jacks Bar & Grill in downtown Burbank. “If they know they can’t smoke here, they are not going to come.”

Morales said his friends’ businesses in Santa Monica have suffered slightly since that city’s outdoor smoking ban went into effect Nov. 23. Santa Monica Deputy City Atty. Adam Radinsky said it’s too early to gauge the ordinance’s overall effect.

But Stephanie Warren, chairwoman of the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce, said most businesses have reported no fiscal downturn since the city’s ordinance went into effect in March.

“Everybody seems to be happy about it,” she said.

Although the Calabasas and Santa Monica ordinances are among the most restrictive outdoor smoking bans in Southern California, many other cities have imposed modified bans at beaches and parks. Nearly 20 beaches in Los Angeles and Orange counties are smoke-free, including Venice, Huntington and Laguna beaches.

Meanwhile, 15 Los Angeles County cities have smoke-free parks. The city of Los Angeles is exploring a similar ordinance.

William McCarthy, an American Cancer Society spokesman, said smoking restrictions come in waves. It usually takes one city to lead the way, he said.

“When cities see other cities do it successfully, they jump on board,” said McCarthy.

He said even minimal amounts of secondhand smoke can be hazardous.

“Long before there is evidence of cancer,” McCarthy said, “there is bronchitis that can turn into other lung problems and aggravate asthma.”

Mayor Campbell, who has lost relatives to smoking-related cancer, said he wants to “create an atmosphere that is welcoming to all parts of the community” in Burbank’s public areas, particularly downtown.

“The effects of cigarettes are clear,” Campbell said. “There is a reason to prevent exposure.”

Burbank officials are aware that some residents like to smoke, so establishing restricted areas for smokers is something that would be considered.

Studies show 16% of Californians smoke. During a recent lunch hour on North San Fernando Boulevard in downtown Burbank, there were smokers on every corner.

“As long as there [are] areas we can go smoke, I’m fine with that,” said Raymond Darbinyan, as he smoked near a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf entrance. “Even as a smoker, I get bothered if someone blows smoke in my face.”