x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Berkeley used to be just like Abu Dhabi

LOS ANGELES // When Berkeley, the super-politically correct college town outside San Francisco, passed its first anti-tobacco by-law in 1977, local smokers yelped in indignation. They jeered at public health activists in the street and even threw an occasional punch at them. More than 30 years later, with smoking banned in and around every public building in Berkeley and most other Californian cities, that indignation has given way to resignation and acceptance.

It's not unusual to see restaurant employees taking a smoke break on a traffic island in the middle of a busy street, or sneaking off down a side alley like a drug addict in search of a fix - which is certainly how the anti-smoking lobby sees smokers. In California, where driving comes more naturally than walking down a street, many of the state's remaining smokers prefer to light up in their cars.

"I'm not offended. I couldn't care less," said Nick Ager, a smoker who works at a coffee shop in Berkeley. "There are so many more things people need to worry about? Honestly, I try to do everything within the laws." That attitude seems to be the pattern throughout the US, where tobacco smoking has become ever more restrictive over the past three decades: people have simply got used to the new rules.

First, restaurants and bars were obliged to split their premises into smoking and non-smoking zones. Then came bans on smoking on public transport - everything from buses to planes. Now it is not unusual for patrons at restaurants to sneak off to a back patio, or smoke on the street, making sure to keep more than 20 feet away from any store-front doorway. Most recently, the city of Belmont, about 40km south of San Francisco, became the most restrictive city in the US by banning smoking inside apartments or condominiums that share a floor or ceiling with another unit.

The good news, as far as the city's ever-dwindling population of smokers was concerned, was that the law could have been worse. When it was first being drafted, the city council gave serious consideration to banning smoking anywhere in public - in the street, or in cars, or anywhere else. Belmont was talked out of that draconian measure by anti-smoking activists who said that banning smoking outdoors was an invitation for people to light up inside their homes, where children could be exposed to second-hand smoke.

That concern, in turn, led to the new by-law - not least because of the loud complaints of a small group of elderly residents at a retirement home called Bonnie Brae Terrace. One octogenarian with lung disease and persistent allergies, Ray Goodrich, spent almost 10 years complaining about the smoke coming from his neighbours before convincing the city council to take his side. The law was so controversial that it was passed 14 months before it was enacted - a grace period intended to give landlords time to rewrite their tenancy agreements and smokers time to find a new place to live.

Mr Goodrich has endured his share of cold stares and hostility from his neighbours, but in the month since the by-law came into effect, not one of them has been slapped with the $100 fine for breaking the rules. *The National