OAKLEY -- Going one step further in its attempt to protect residents from secondhand smoke, the City Council is considering an ordinance that would prevent tobacco users from lighting up in virtually every outdoor public place.
The proposed restrictions also would extend to electronic cigarettes. In addition, the city would become the first in Contra Costa County to prohibit minors from using the devices.
Whereas Oakley currently has no ban on outdoor smoking except in certain areas around apartment buildings, this ordinance would apply not only to restaurant patios, but also parks, hiking trails, ball fields, shopping plazas, car lots, fishing piers and amphitheaters.
Smokers still could indulge their habit on a city street or sidewalk as long as they aren't where a farmers market, parade or festival is taking place.
If the council adopts these rules, Oakley would become the eighth city in the county to have such comprehensive rules against outdoor smoking. Lafayette, Martinez, Pinole, Pleasant Hill, Richmond, San Ramon and Walnut Creek already have such ordinances on the books. The county also has an ordinance covering its unincorporated areas.
No one voiced any objections to the sweeping constraints at Tuesday's council meeting, which Denice Dennis of the county's Tobacco Prevention Project attributes to the widespread understanding that inhaling others' smoke poses real health risks.
"I think the public is in front of policy makers on this issue," she said after the meeting, noting that Contra Costa Health Services receives many calls from people with medical conditions such as heart disease and respiratory problems who are worried about their exposure to secondhand smoke.
Most of council members' discussion revolved instead around so-called "e-cigarettes," battery-powered devices that vaporize a tobacco-free liquid either containing nicotine or simply different flavors such as bubble gum, watermelon, cherry, chocolate and even cookies and cream.
The city is considering following the example of Contra Costa County, Walnut Creek, Richmond and Concord, which have placed the same restrictions on the adult use of e-cigarettes as on conventional cigarettes, cigars and tobacco pipes, according to Dennis.
She and another representative of the region's anti-tobacco contingent voiced concern that e-cigarettes are reversing society's move away from smoking by serving as a steppingstone to the use of tobacco products.
Special Counsel Bill Galstan agreed, noting that e-cigarettes are sold in a variety of flavors and scents that appeal to young people who might graduate to conventional cigarettes.
If Oakley doesn't limit e-cigarettes, "we're making a suggestion to the public that these are safe," said Mary Jaccodine, co-chair the Contra Costa Tobacco Prevention Coalition.
Vice Mayor Doug Hardcastle supported making e-cigarettes off-limits at restaurants, although he didn't like the notion of a wholesale ban if the devices can help cigarette smokers kick the habit.
"Let's have a little bit of freedom," he said.
Most of his colleagues favored the idea of including e-cigarettes in the new ordinance, however, citing worries about health hazards.
Like Hardcastle, they recognized the problems the devices could pose in restaurants' outdoor dining areas.
"You're there to smell the food," Councilman Kevin Romick said.
Galstan agreed, as he imagined someone trying to enjoy a breakfast of scrambled eggs while piña colada-scented vapors from an e-cigarette wafted their way.
"That could be a nuisance," he said.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.