Like most people, Ron Trujillo can say he’s witnessed the negative impacts of tobacco use firsthand.
“My father smoked,” says the Santa Fe city councilor. “My grandfather smoked. I’ve seen it.”
Trujillo can’t say he’s a smoker—never has been.
Yet the Southside District 4 councilor is behind the most sweeping efforts to restrict nicotine consumption across the City Different since the officials made it unlawful to smoke on patios and near buildings in 2006.
In February, councilors approved a law change from Trujillo that put e-cigarettes into Santa Fe’s smoke-free code, and now it’s unlawful for anyone to consume the vapor-emitting devices in the same public establishments where smoking cigarettes is prohibited.
Trujillo isn’t stopping there. Last week, he announced a new proposal that would prohibit all major types of nicotine consumption in city-owned parks and recreation areas, including the use of e-cigarettes and smoking.
A draft version of the ordinance change also calls for broader enforcement, giving the authority to issue citations for law violations to the Santa Fe Police Department or a code-enforcement officer instead of the city manager, who is the official the current policy says should ensure its execution.
The proposal is set to be vetted by the council’s Public Works Committee on July 28 in a public hearing, says Melissa Byers, a legislative liaison. The Finance Committee is then set to consider the proposal in another hearing scheduled for August 13, she says, while the full council could decide its eventual fate as soon as September 10.
Trujillo’s aversion to nicotine consumption is apparent in interviews, when he cites incidents such as witnessing a driver dragging on a cigarette with all the windows closed while a child sits in the backseat. The Little League coach also laments that he has witnessed smokers light up amid a crowd of people in bleachers or behind a ballpark’s dugout.
According to data maintained by the state’s Department of Health, Santa Fe County boasted some of the lowest rates of adult smokers in 2011-12, with cigarette smoking prevalent among 16.8 percent of adults, below the statewide average of 20.4 percent, sixth lowest among 29 counties surveyed across the state.
When Trujillo talked to SFR about the new idea, he again detailed a story he’s been repeating since he moved to ban e-cigarettes indoors: that he was in an Applebee’s one day and caught a whiff of cotton candy coming from the vapor emitted by a nearby e-cigarette user. He tells that tale to partly justify his attempt to ban e-cigarettes in outdoor areas, too. Trujillo acknowledged that he hasn’t sought out peer-reviewed scientific research to back claims about dangers of secondhand smoke in open spaces like parks.
While research conducted for entities like the Center for Disease Control notes that no level of exposure to secondhand smoke is safe, the few peer-reviewed studies that examine those exposure-levels outdoors verify the obvious: the closer you are to a smoker, the more likely that you’ll be exposed to secondhand smoke.
One 2012 review of research on the topic published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives concluded “limited evidence” was available regarding secondhand smoke exposure in outdoor settings, but “that high smoker density, highly enclosed outdoor areas, low wind conditions, and close proximity to smokers generate higher outdoor [secondhand smoke].”
Trujillo calls this a “quality of life issue”—and he says he’s willing to compromise. He’s offered to allow designated smoking areas in parks, similar to New York City’s rules that only allow smoking in park parking lots and sidewalks on the perimeter of public spaces.