Smoke-free outdoor dining

As the death, disease, and financial devastation wrought by COVID-19 begins to recede in some communities, people who live in the San Elijo Hills community are wondering how best to protect their families as San Marcos moves to re-open restaurants and other businesses.

As a resident of San Elijo Hills, and as the Program Supervisor for Vista Community Clinic’s Tobacco Control Program, I have been learning a lot about the interaction between COVID-19 and tobacco and what it means for our families, friends, and neighbors. The combination of smoking/vaping and COVID-19 can be deadly – not just for those who use these products, but for people who may be exposed to secondhand or thirdhand smoke in their homes or in outdoor dining areas.

Residents are fortunate that almost every San Elijo Hills restaurant has voluntarily made its outdoor dining area smoke-free. Unfortunately, many restaurants in other parts of San Marcos still permit smoking outdoors, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check our online guide to find other San Marcos restaurants that offer healthy, smoke-free air: http://northcoastalpreventioncoalition.org/programs/tc/sfod/guide/. 

Smoke-free outdoor dining helps people smoke less and do less damage to their lungs’ ability to fight off infections. Doctors are warning those who smoke or vape that they are at risk of developing more severe COVID-19 symptoms. (See: https://tobaccofreeca.com/health/covid-19-stop-smoking-and-vaping/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwuJz3BRDTARIsAMg-HxUrfGS2-LwXhn_lcFCw4av7b_4F4MQfvKHwbcCaAHWu4t-8fMIO9JgaAvLJEALw_wcB)

The benefits of smoke-free air where we live, work, and play go beyond those who smoke or vape. It is possible that secondhand smoke exhaled by an infected person can spread COVID-19 to others. Secondhand smoke spreads quickly, is detectable more than 6 feet away, and remains airborne for a long time. The California Tobacco Control Program warns, “When people are smoking or vaping, they are also exhaling particulates from deep within their lungs into the environment around them.” (See: https://tobaccofreeca.com/health/covid-19-and-tobacco-what-you-need-to-know/)

Now, researchers at San Diego State University are warning us about thirdhand smoke and COVID-19,  saying that the coronavirus may be spread in indoor environments by “hitching a ride” on particles exhaled during smoking and vaping, and that the particles may linger for days on surfaces and in dust where thirdhand smoke and vapors accumulate. (See: https://thirdhandsmoke.org/dont-let-covid-19-hitch-a-ride/)

Last fall, well before COVID-19 captured our attention, Vista Community Clinic sponsored a series of community forums on secondhand smoke attended by more than 85 San Marcos residents. Many lived in apartments and expressed concern about secondhand smoke drifting into their units. “I am bothered by secondhand smoke in the apartment complex where I live. People are sometimes smoking around my kids, and my kids sometimes are curious to pick up cigarettes with their bare hands,” said Norma Vazquez. 

Other participants were concerned about exposure to secondhand smoke in outdoor dining areas. “This hits close to the heart for me because my mum passed away when I was 12 years old because of an asthma attack. I have asthma and my daughter tends to wheeze and has an inhaler,” said San Elijo Hills resident Sharmin Jesuthasan. “While we love sitting outdoors enjoying a meal at a restaurant, we typically don’t go if others are smoking in the outdoor dining area.”  

I encourage residents to thank restaurants in San Elijo Hills for their leadership in offering smoke-free outdoor dining to protect our health. For more ideas about what you can do to promote smoke-free air, contact Jennifer.Gill@vcc.org. 

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