New smoking law makes sense
Published: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 2:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.
You are a cancer survivor seated in a small bus stop in downtown Petaluma and it’s raining. A woman sits down on the bench alongside you and proceeds to light up a cigarette.
The smoke from the cigarette drifts by and you can’t help but inhale it. After breathing in the smoke for a few moments, you politely ask the person to please refrain from smoking inside the bus stop, and consider stepping outside to smoke. The woman refuses your request and continues to puff away, suggesting you may “call the cops if you want.”
This actually happened last February, according to Petaluma resident Susan Gilbert, and there was nothing the police could do because the city lacked a law to protect people from carcinogenic second-hand smoke in many public places.
Now, thanks to a new ordinance passed by the city council on Monday, cigarette smoking will be prohibited in public areas such as bus stops, city parking lots, commercial sidewalks, outdoor dining areas and shared courtyards. Smoking will also be prohibited in apartment and condominium complexes, as well as all of the city’s hotels and motels.
The law has a clear goal: to save lives and prevent the suffering associated with cancer and other diseases caused by second-hand smoke. It is similar to laws passed by the County of Sonoma and several other Bay Area cities.
The new ordinance significantly broadens the city’s regulations on second-hand smoke which were modified in 2009 to include a ban on smoking in city parks.
Is the new law fair? That probably depends on one’s perspective.
If you are a smoker who believes you should have the right to smoke wherever you want, you might easily conclude that the city’s new law is unjust by prohibiting you from smoking in your own apartment or condominium. You could draw that conclusion, but you would be wrong. If you are sharing a building, you are sharing the air in that building. Second-hand smoke drifting into an apartment from a neighboring unit is a clear health risk. Air filters and ventilation systems do not stop second-hand smoke, so there is no way to reasonably protect the health of multi-family housing residents without banning smoking entirely in such complexes.
And doing so is perfectly legal. Because cigarette smoke is a proven health hazard, cigarette smokers are not a protected class under federal, state or local fair housing laws, so smokers cannot legitimately claim they are being discriminated against.
Despite its wide-ranging impacts, there was surprisingly little opposition to the new law. Local apartment complex and motel owners were not much interested in challenging the ordinance, since most of their tenants and guests are non-smokers and will undoubtedly welcome a ban on smoking. The new law automatically removes disputes between landlords and their smoking tenants who could previously challenge no-smoking policies. Also, because smokers are more likely to start a fire than non-smokers, the new law will enhance safety at all of the city’s motels, hotels and multi-family housing units.
The city ordinance also prohibits marijuana smoking in the same locations, since second-hand marijuana smoke is also considered a health risk. And yes, that includes so-called “medical marijuana” smoking which, despite its legality in the state, can also become a significant nuisance for apartment dwellers whose neighbors’ combustible use of the drug clouds the air with smoke and a distinctive and lingering odor.
We applaud the city council for taking bold steps to make Petaluma a more healthy place to live.
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