Imagine a committee meeting where California legislators gather to consider Assembly Bill 746, Assemblyman Marc Levine's proposal to protect people in multi-unit housing from secondhand smoke ("Bill targets smoking at home," Page A1, Feb. 28). Picture the table, the chairs, the people milling about shaking hands and making introductions.
Imagine that there's room for about 34 members of the public to sit and quietly watch the proceedings. Imagine that after 15 minutes of discussion, they pull out packs of cigarettes, light up, and continue quietly listening while smoking. There would be bedlam. Security would be called. People would be arrested.
Legislators would rush from the room waving their hands wildly in a futile effort to disperse the smoke. Even those who smoke themselves would recognize this as a terrible, life-threatening imposition on people's right to breathe clean air. They'd find another meeting room, rope off the area, and scratch their heads at the unfathomable behavior they'd just encountered.
Now consider how hypocritical this behavior would seem if, after the smokers are cleared from the room, they sat back down and, with the full blessing of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, voted to allow smokers in multi-unit housing to continue to smoke indoors, forcing the whole building to smoke involuntarily pregnant women, children, everyone.
The tobacco industry isn't the only rock in the path toward clean, smoke-free air for the poorest tenants in California the majority of whom don't smoke and don't want their families exposed. Another rock comes from "social justice" representatives who worry about the imposition it might create for a smoker to use nicotine gum or step outside to avoid exposing the millions of low-income, non-smoking renters who can't afford to move.
Carol Denney is a community activist, writer and musician in Berkeley.