DEL MAR, Calif. — Where there's cigarette smoke, there's political fire, and Del Mar has plenty of both these days.
Next Tuesday, residents of this upscale San Diego County beach community will vote on a proposal to extend the city's smoking ban to public streets, beaches and parks, making it the most restrictive anti-smoking measure in the nation.
Both the Tobacco Institute and the Berkeley-based Americans for Non-Smokers Rights are warily watching Del Mar residents choose sides.
The proposed smoking ban, Proposition N on the ballot here, is the work of former Del Mar Mayor Richard Roe, who led a successful petition campaign to qualify the measure for the ballot. Opponents contend that the measure is unneeded, unworkable and probably just a splashy ploy by Roe to prepare for another run for public office.
Undeterred, the 51-year-old businessman, jogger, bicyclist and reformed smoker says that Del Mar (population 5,100) is the perfect place to begin making smoking socially unacceptable and thus start saving lives.
"Del Mar exemplifies the healthy life style, with a lot of people very serious about diet and exercise--running, bicycling, swimming," Roe said. "Del Mar has a chance to be a leader in ending the hypocrisy about smoking. We know that smoking is bad for you, but then we say it's perfectly OK to smoke."
Roe's re-entry into local politics has been greeted with all the joy of a cheap cigar in a crowded elevator.
The Chamber of Commerce opposes Proposition N.
Restaurant owners are major donors to Residents for Responsible Regulation, formed to fight it.
A Del Mar real estate firm has donated space for a telephone brigade to get out the No-on-N message.
Former Allies Opposed
Roe's opponents include business people, civil libertarians and even some of Roe's former allies among Del Mar's "green" party, which usually battles in favor of environmental concerns.
The current, smoking mayor, Ronnie Delaney, signed the anti-N ballot statement, and the nonsmoking deputy mayor, Scott Barnett, debated Roe on radio.
Barnett complained during the debate that Roe had bypassed the City Council, not giving it a chance to modify the current anti-smoking ordinance, before charging ahead with his petition.
"He just went ahead with his initiative and then we have no choice but to enact it if voters approve," Barnett said.
"That's part of the democratic process, Scott," Roe answered. "I hope you approve of the initiative process. If you don't approve of the initiative process, then that's OK, too, Scott, but I do. I think the public has a right to collect signatures and put it to a vote of the people."
Del Mar's current ordinance bans smoking in stores and requires no-smoking sections in most workplaces and restaurants.
Proposition N would extend the prohibition to all public streets, alleys, parks, beaches and meeting places. It also would toughen the regulation in restaurants by requiring construction of physical barriers and special ventilation to separate smokers from nonsmokers. The Del Mar Race Track and Fairgrounds and outdoor cafes on public sidewalks would be exempt, as would private homes, cars, hotels and motels.
Proposition N calls for three outside smoking areas on public property, each of no more than 1,000 square feet. The anti-N forces ridicule these as "smoking pens" and suggest changing the town's civic slogan to: "Del Mar: Where the Puff Meets the Tough."
Violators would receive at least one warning. A first infraction would mean a fine of up to $100. A second within a year would bring a fine of up to $200.
Roe sees the ordinance as self-regulating, with smokers and nonsmokers alike voluntarily complying. Opponents suggest that there would be enormous cost in cracking down on offenders.
'I Want to Change That'
"I'm not Carrie Nation, out there smashing cigarette machines," Roe said. "But I want a different attitude toward smoking. Nicotine is a drug and it's killing 350,000 people a year. I want to change that."
So far, Roe has loaned the campaign $3,442 for mailers and other political paraphernalia. Residents for Responsible Regulation, the anti-N group, reports contributions of $3,165, and a large chunk of that was used to hire San Diego political consultant Sara Katz. The sums must be measured against the fact that there are only 4,200 registered voters in the city.
"We think that the laws are already in place to adequately address the smoking problem in Del Mar," said graphic designer Pat Barnett, chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce's committee on legislation and the mother of Deputy Mayor Scott Barnett.
"The current ordinance should be enforced," she said. "This proposed ordinance, depending on what type of construction is required for restaurants, could be very costly. As for the outdoor ban, that's just silly."
The Tobacco Institute and Americans for Non-Smokers Rights, bitter antagonists in most civic disputes over smoking regulations, are monitoring Proposition N but are not directly involved.