A first reading to amend an established ordinance to prohibit smoking in all public sidewalks, walkways, parkways, curbs and gutters was approved by the South Pasadena City Council on Wednesday night.
The current ordinance does not allow smoking in enclosed indoor public places, including public meeting rooms, public restrooms, parks, elevators, bars restaurants, bars, supermarkets, museums, libraries, public transportations facilities.
“The new ordinance will make it so no one can smoke in any area where a child will be walking to and from school,” said Gisella Benitez, whose husband, Ricardo, a nonsmoker died of lung cancer last September. “I took a tragedy of my husband’s death and made it into something positive for the whole city.”
Over the past six months, Benitez has been a regular attendee at South Pasadena City meetings expressing her concern of secondhand smoke around children walking to and from school.
“Now all kids can walk to school and back home and not worry about walking through secondhand smoke,” explained Benitez. “I started coming to council meetings when picking up my child at the middle school and seeing people on the sidewalks or bus stops. They were smoking and our students were walking through the second hand smoke. It’s such a tragedy that my husband had to die from something he didn’t do. If I can save one child, I did something in Ricardo’s name.”
Recognizing Benitez’s effort to make a change were members of the City Council, who praised her dedication and perseverance. “I wanted to point out how a resident who is passionate about something and also does her research can make a difference,” said Councilmember Dr. Marina Khubesrian. “I hope this decision will improve the quality of life for a lot of people in this city. You’ve turned a tragedy into an opportunity to help people and I applaud you for that.”
Added Councilmember, Michael Cacciotti, “I second Marina’s comments. Great effort.”
Benitez has heard all the health warnings that secondhand smoke can have adverse effects on a person’s blood, blood vessels and increases the risk of a heart attack.
According to a city report on the issue, the council directed city staff “to seek options to expand prohibition of smoking in public places including but not limited to school, public parks, corridors and areas in which secondhand smoke would adversely affect vulnerable populations such as children and seniors.” City staff recommended amending the current ordinance to prohibit smoking in all public sidewalks, walkways, parkways, curbs and gutters.
Data provided by Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and is a major cause of strokes and coronary heart disease. In the city report on smoking, it points out that secondhand smoke kills approximately 50,000 Americans per year. In addition, secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals of which at least 70 can cause cancer.
Instrumental in compiling information for the city report presented to the City Council was Robert Bartl, assistant captain of the South Police Department. “He did an immense amount of work,” praised Benitez. “His report could have taken well over a year, but he took my efforts personally and helped me along, for sure.”
Smoking is now restricted to the home or inside a vehicle in South Pasadena.
The public will be given an opportunity to speak on the issue during the May 16 City Council meeting at City Hall.
With approval of the amendment, South Pasadena would join the California cities of Agoura Hills, Burbank, Manhattan Beach, Laguna Beach, Calabasas, Oceanside, Del Mar, Santa Monica and San Rafael where smoking in public is banned in public places and sidewalks.
“All the residents in South Pasadena will benefit from this change in the ordinance,” said Benitez, noting that her husband of 24 years died at the age of 52.
Asked what Ricardo would be saying of his wife’s actions in pushing the council to make a change, his wife, holding back tears, answered: “He’s smiling and saying, “Of course you did, of course you made a difference.”