El Cajon - no-smoking ordinance but NOT Enforced..

August 27, 2009 - El Cajon, a city in San Deigo, California with a population of approximately 95,000. The purpose of this Ordinance was to limit public exposure to secondhand smoke in public areas within the City of El Cajon. Smoking is prohibited in and within 20 feet of the following City owned Recreation Facilities: Bostonia Center, Fletcher Hills Center, Hillside Center, Kennedy Center, Renette Center and Wells Center.

For some residents, the law that prohibits smoking in public — in parks, restaurants, bars, places of employment, and common areas of hotels and apartment buildings — is ineffective and unenforceable.

Since March 2008, when the law’s grace period ended, not one citation has been issued for smoking in public.

“I’ve seen people light up right in front of cops, and the cops don’t even ask them to put it out. Look at this guy,” says John, a 15-year resident of El Cajon who doesn’t want to give his real name. “He doesn’t care because no one is going to enforce it.”

The reason isn’t that the law has stopped everyone from lighting up — far from it — but that the law is “self-enforcing,” meaning it is up to employers, property owners, and other citizens to ask smokers to extinguish cigarettes if they pose a “positive danger to health and a cause of material annoyance, inconvenience, discomfort, and a health hazard.” If the smoker refuses to put out the cigarette, the complainant can either find a police officer or file a civil action against the smoker.

For John, asking people to put out their cigarettes is as good as telling them to slow down and drive the speed limit. And filing a civil action is even more outlandish. “Usually when I approach someone smoking, they tell me that they have a right to smoke where they want and there is nothing I can do about it. Their response is always some type of ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude. If it’s a law, it needs to be enforced by the police and the City, not the people it’s supposed to protect.”

Within four years, the City had enacted the toughest anti-smoking regulations in the county. The first, a 2004 law, aims to end underage smoking. Tobacco merchants pay a fee, currently $675 per year, to fund compliance checks and administrative hearings, held when alleged violators challenge fines. The second law, the smoking ban, went into effect in September 2007.

Smoking is prohibited in and within 20 feet of any tot lot, any playground and any recreational area whether publicly or privately owned. No person shall be in possession of a burning tobacco or tobacco related product, including but not limited to cigars and cigarettes, in any public places; any places of employment; and multi-unit residence common area; or any enclosed and unenclosed places of hotels, businesses, restaurants, and bars and other public accommodation. No person shall smoke in an area in which smoking is otherwise permitted by this chapter or other law within a reasonable distance from any entrance, opening, crack, or vent into an enclosed, area in which smoking is prohibited by this chapter, other law or by the owner, lessee or licensee of that enclosed area.

Reference: El Cajon's Smoking Ordinance, ElcajonFire.com, March 14, 2008 - date smoking ban became effective..; I Blow Smoke on Your Law by Dorian Hargrove, San Diego Weekly Reader, 8/26/2009.