Smoking Bans Are Nice “Tools” for Clearing Away Homeless People

NOTE BY NORSE:  HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) has noted and denounced the discriminatory creation and enforcement of the No Smoking ordinance in parks with what appears to be an objective far beyond health concerns for the tiny tots, oldsters, and asthmatics.  Namely, driving away homeless people or, at the very least, ignoring the fact that they smoke cigarettes far more than housed people do.  It’s one of the small pleasures they have as they’re hassled on Pacific Avenue for sitting next to a building, rousted from the Coffee Roasting Company for having a big backpack or appearing homeless, or–of course, driven into the night for the “crime” of sleeping after 11 PM (now being billed as “trespass” on public property apparently).
Certain middle-of-the-mud “Progressives” defend or avoid the issue by seeing it as a health issue or, like Pleich, stripping it of its obvious anti-homeless component and viewing it as an entirely civil libertarian issue.  While the issue is certainly a civil libertarian one, its greatest impact is on those outside, and it seems pretty clear to me that this is all part of the “no homeless, thanks!” campaign mislabeled as “Public Safety” to avoid lawsuits, bad publicity, and conscience revulsion and give it a kind of disingenous credibility with the mainstream, which gets a little nervous at the sight of bands of armed thugs in uniform packing up and jacking up folks in ragged clothing downtown, in the pars, and around the town.
The article below suggests (and I haven’t done the research myself) that homeless people are the primary victims of both the recent Smoking Ban expansion on Pacific (“get ’em out of sight!”) and the absurd park-wide ban on smoking in the expansive San Lorenzo Park.  Those who ignore the basic issue seem to me willfully blind.
As with the other laws that make Pacific Avenue a network of nasty illegal tripwires, depending on the whim of the cop, host, security thug, merchant, or vigilante on the beat, the City Council’s original Smoking Ban and its expansion doesn’t mind catching up lots of other folks in the net–so as to avoid a constitutional crackdown by the (non-Santa Cruz) courts.
A tip of the hat to Dennis Etler who tagged and posted this article in a discussion on Steve Pleich’s website Citizens for a Better Santa Cruz at

75% of homeless smoke; doctors say it’s time to intervene

July 18, 2013|By Mary MacVean  L.A. Times .

  • "Vulnerable and marginalized populations continue to use tobacco at high rates," doctors wrote in a journal article published Thursday.
“Vulnerable and marginalized populations continue to use tobacco… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
About three-quarters of homeless people smoke cigarettes, and the complacent approach to that situation needs to change to support efforts to get them to quit, doctors wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Vulnerable and marginalized populations continue to use tobacco at high rates,” including the 2.3 million to 3.5 million people in the United States who are homeless. There exists “a fatalistic attitude among healthcare professionals toward addressing tobacco use in this population,” they wrote in the Thursday issue of the journal.

The authors acknowledged particular difficulties in getting homeless people to stop or reduce their smoking, including psychiatric and substance abuse issues. A lack of health insurance also means a lack of access to smoking cessation programs.

“Whereas most homeless shelters no longer permit smoking indoors, smoking around shelters is commonplace and contributes to a culture of tobacco use that makes quitting more difficult and relapse more likely,” the doctors wrote.
The lead author, Dr. Travis Baggett, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, said that during much of his 13 years of work with homeless people, he would have agreed that tobacco was not a top priority. But he said his attitude has changed in the last five years.

Smoking “causes too many problems for us to ignore it,” he said in an accompanying interview on the journal’s website. It is “making our patients poorer or sicker, and they want to quit.”

Smoking and mental illness are associated, but Baggett said the high rate of smoking among homeless is not fully explained by that complicating factor.

Baggett said the tobacco industry has taken advantage of the situation; the article cited a 1995 R.J. Reynolds program called Sub-Culture Urban Marketing, or SCUM, that targeted vulnerable people in San Francisco. However, a Reynolds spokesman said the program was never adopted.

“We have no programs or marketing that focus on that group,” David Howard said in an email. “All of our marketing efforts are developed for and communicate to adult tobacco consumers, all adult tobacco consumers.”

The rate of smoking among homeless people is four times that of the U.S. adult population, the doctors wrote in the journal. And the rate of smoking-related deaths is twice that among people with homes.

“Doing nothing about this problem is no longer acceptable,” Baggett said. In the article, the authors suggest interventions at several levels, including smoke-free policies at shelters, efforts to get individuals to stop smoking, and financial incentives to those who quit.