City wants to kick habit, but won’t allow ashtrays 

click to enlarge Smokers are banished to the street, but given few places to discard their butts. - JOSEPH SCHELL/SPECIAL TO THE SF EXAMINER
  • Joseph Schell/Special to The SF Examiner
  • Smokers are banished to the street, but given few places to discard their butts.

San Francisco boasts some of the country’s most stringent anti-smoking laws, but one unintended consequence is burdening business owners.

The City passed new smoking restrictions in 2010, making it illegal to smoke on any outdoor patio and within 15 feet from any open window or doorway. Under the code, all ashtrays within such areas had to be removed because businesses may not enable patrons or employees to break the law.

But the lack of ashtrays is creating headaches for business owners.

Teague Kernan, a part owner of the new Tupelo restaurant in North Beach, said his employees must now sweep the curb and gutter due to the volume of discarded cigarettes.

“It’s a ridiculous law,” Kernan said. “The alternative, though, is we could leave it in the street and the whole place would look like s---.”

Colleen Chawla, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health, said that “California labor code says no employer shall knowingly or intentionally permit someone to violate laws, which in this case would be smoking. That’s why ashtrays are not permitted.”

Still, cigarette butts left on sidewalks and streets are a common complaint of residents in North Beach and many locations in The City, making the cleanup even more burdensome to business owners, Kernan said.

Cynthia Hallett, executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, said cigarette butts are among the largest discarded waste in the country. An estimated 1.56 billion tons of butts are tossed on streets each year, said the Berkeley-based organization.

Hallett said agrees businesses should not be displaying support for smoking, but there should be some kind of receptacle to toss the waste.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Hallett said of the resolution. “I understand with respect to smoke-free indoor environments you don’t want to provide ashtrays, but if they are outdoors in legal smoking areas, people do need a sanctioned place to put out cigarettes.”

Hallett said there are ways to combat smoking -- even with ashtrays. Businesses in Ireland, for instance, place ashtrays and trash receptacles at a reasonable distance from restaurant entryways, but on each ashtray is a phone number for a hotline to help smokers kick the habit.

“You can put educational messages on them,” Hallett said. “It might counter the concern that an ashtray encourages smoking.”

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