Wednesday, February 18, 2004

California law strictly bans smoking in offices, bars and restaurants, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a longtime cigar smoker has proposed converting the state Capitol’s interior courtyard into a “smoking plaza.”

Under the actor-turned-governor’s plan, part of the Capitol’s roof would be removed to create an area where legislators and other Sacramento visitors could smoke.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Terri Carbaugh, explained that Mr. Schwarzenegger wants to create an informal meeting and schmoozing area where he can smoke cigars with lawmakers and other power brokers.

“It’s a more positive environment where they can all be on an equal footing, as opposed to everyone going into the governor’s office where he’s behind his desk,” the spokeswoman said.

But the cigar-loving governor has to face the opposition of several antitobacco groups, who accuse him of thwarting California’s efforts to cut tobacco use.

Smoking in restaurants has been banned in California for almost a decade. In 1998, the ban was extended to bars, and since the end of last year, smoking has been prohibited anywhere within 20 feet of a public building’s entrance.

“That’s very frightening that would even think about smoking inside the heart of our state Capitol,” said Jim Walker, the director and founder of Stop Tobacco Abuse of Minors Pronto. “He could do more good by championing our cause rather than trivializing it.”

Last Saturday in Sacramento, several dozen protesters demonstrated in front of the Capitol to denounce Mr. Schwarzenegger’s project to turn the Capitol courtyard into a smoking patio.

“We are deeply disappointed at several recent public depictions of your use and promotion of cigars and urge you to refrain from modeling this dangerous habit,” the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and the American Lung Association wrote in a recent letter to Mr. Schwarzenegger.

The Austrian-born former bodybuilding champ, who once headed the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, has appeared twice on the cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine and frequently has smoked cigars at public events.

Antitobacco groups are worrying about the impact he can have among young fans by making smoking looking cool.

“Schwarzenegger has been one of my heroes through the years, thanks to his confidence and his positive attitude, and I would hope that rather than turning this back on the thousands of families that have lost loved ones, he would take up and champion our cause,” Mr. Walker said.

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