SANTEE - The mayor of Santee is enraging anti-smoking activists.
The city of Santee recently received a failing grade from the American Lung Association for allowing people to smoke in city parks. In response, Mayor Randy Voepel wore all black and a cigar tie to a recent City Council meeting. He said in his eyes “F stands for freedom.”
“Here’s the deal—I’m not a smoker," he said. "I might smoke one cigar every month but cigarette smoking is especially stupid. And if you want to be stupid, you have the freedom to be stupid in Santee."
Voepel said he doesn’t see second hand smoke as a “serious” issue.
“There are some people who are smoking Nazis," he said. "You will suck in more carcinogens on your daily commute in the morning than you ever will smelling some faintly wafting second hand smoke,”
The majority of the county did poorly in the State of Tobacco Control 2014 report with none of the local cities receiving an “A” grade. Solana Beach and El Cajon topped the list with a “B.” The rest of the county received a mix of “Ds” and “Fs.”
“This is where I get emotional,” said Debra Kelley of the American Lung Association. “There is nothing about second hand smoke that is a joke. People with heart disease can experience a heart attack within 30 minutes of being exposed to second hand smoke.”
Kelley said Santee has faced consistent issues, and the city is showing little inclination to change. She said Santee earned an “F” in this report for years now.
“I know plenty of non-smokers who have been diagnosed with lung cancer and have died," she said. "Many of those deaths are attributable to second hand smoke."
Anti-smoking groups are also taking aim at Voepel for his choice of clothing and making light of this health issue.
“When you put your right to smoke above children, above people with disabilities—I think it’s very selfish,” said Manuel Andrade of nonprofit, SAY San Diego.
Both Kelley and Andrade contend the Mayor is on the wrong side of history.
“I’m on the right side of freedom,” Voepel responded.
Voepel admits he’s enduring backlash online and has received a slew of nasty emails.
“I love them," he said. " I don’t take it very serious. I do take the safety of citizens serious. We have one of the highest arrest rates, we have one of the lowest crime rates. And you’re safe in Santee—maybe not from second hand smoke."