Group advocates for SF, Oakland bar patios to be smokefree

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday October 19, 2023
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Brian Davis, left, T.J. Lee, and Amaya Wooding staffed the LGBTQ Minus Tobacco booth at the October 1 Castro Street Fair. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Brian Davis, left, T.J. Lee, and Amaya Wooding staffed the LGBTQ Minus Tobacco booth at the October 1 Castro Street Fair. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Since 2012, San Jose has required the outdoor patios of all bars in the city to be smokefree. Daly City and Fremont have adopted similar bans.

More than four-dozen Bay Area cities have enacted laws for 100% smokefree outdoor dining and bar patios, according to a list compiled by the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. The counties of Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma also have imposed such a restriction, noted the advocacy organization.

An effort is underway to see San Francisco and Oakland follow suit. The group LGBTQ Minus Tobacco has been meeting with leaders in both cities to discuss the adoption of a smokefree bar patio policy.

Next Thursday, October 26, it is hosting a community meeting in Oakland to raise awareness about the issue.

"The Oakland meeting is sort of a kick start to our work in Oakland a little bit," said Brian Davis, the project director for LGBTQ Minus Tobacco.

It has been surveying attendees at Pride events in both cities about the policy. It also has had booths at street festivals in San Francisco, such as at this month's Castro Street Fair and the Bearrison Street Fair.

"We have now asked 245 people who named specific bars with patios in SF that they go to whether they would go more often, about the same, less often, or not at all if a law passed in SF requiring all bar patios to be smokefree. Forty-four percent would go more often, 48% would go about the same, and 8% would go less often," Davis told the Bay Area Reporter.

While the group is primarily focused on the health of Bay Area LGBTQ residents, the smokefree bar patio bans would cover all such areas at bars in each city, not just those at LGBTQ establishments. In addition to protecting bar patrons, health advocates note it will protect the health of bar employees, who are subjected to the secondhand smoke from cigarettes and vape pens.

"It is pretty clear, and again the data shows, that when spaces go smokefree that they don't lose money. They often make more money because they get more customers," said Davis.

So far the group has not cemented any firm commitment on introducing a smokefree bar patio ordinance from either a San Francisco supervisor or a member of the Oakland City Council. But Davis is hopeful of seeing the proposal move forward in each city.

At this point, Davis said one San Francisco supervisor had tentatively agreed to push for the policy but declined to say which of the 11 board members it was since they had not reached a firm commitment with them on introducing an ordinance. Nor could he say how soon such a policy would be brought up for consideration.

"I don't know when it will happen because it is tentative," said Davis.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the LGBTQ Castro neighborhood, told the B.A.R. he had met with the advocates for a smokefree bar patio policy. But he said he hadn't been asked to be the lead sponsor for it and had not been told by one of his board colleagues that they would be.

"It is not currently on my legislative program, although I would certainly consider it if it was introduced," said Mandelman.

With the city's nightlife venues being hit hard by their forced closures during the COVID pandemic and still hurting from a drop off in tourism and conventions, Mandelman said he would be reluctant about taking any action that could further hurt such businesses.

"At the moment anything that is making life harder for bars and restaurants we would need to be careful about," he said. "That being said, we have had great success eliminating indoor smoking, and that has real benefits for the health of our community."

While he isn't outright opposed to a smokefree bar patio policy, Mandelman told the B.A.R. that legislatively he has "others things more pressing" to focus on, such as addressing the city's dual homelessness and overdoses crises, retail thefts, and lack of affordable housing.

"I think we would not be doing anything groundbreaking in doing what they are proposing," said Mandelman. "I just, I feel like my to-do list is very long right now. I am not opposed in any way to this idea. It might be right."

While the primary focus of next week's "Dine & Discuss" event in Oakland will be LGBTQ+ tobacco issues, other queer health concerns and solutions will also be discussed. It will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. October 26 at the East Bay Community Space at 507 55th Street, and dinner will be provided.

To RSVP, visit the event page on Facebook.

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