Culture Wars/Current Controversies

California town bans smoking in homes

Russia Today

Reuters / Rafael MarchanteReuters / Rafael Marchante

While restrictions on smoking in public are becoming stricter across the country, one California town has taken things a step further and banned smoking in all homes that share walls with other residences.

The new city ordinance in San Rafael, California prohibits smoking in any homes that share common walls, including apartments, condominiums, co-ops, and even multi-family residences that hold three units or more.

The ordinance was passed last month but didn’t take effect until November 14, and applies not only to renters, but also to owners. It effectively bans smoking in one’s own home, raising the eyebrows of those who feel the government has gone too far.

According to ABC News, the new measure was drafted after studies showed second-hand smoke leaked into other apartments through walls, cracks, and ventilation ducts.

“It depends on a building’s construction, but it does affect the unit next door, with the negative health impacts due to smoke,” Rebecca Woodbury, one of the analysts who helped San Rafael develop the rules, said to ABC.

Woodbury added that, in addition to the studies showing the negative impact of second-hand smoke on health, another report by UCLA revealed that when smokers move out of their homes, the cost of cleaning the apartments throughout California can run as high as $18 million a year.

Although other cities have also passed similar ordinances – the Boston Housing Authority in Massachusetts barred smoking in public housing in 2011 – Woodbury said San Rafael’s ban is the strongest in the country.

“We based it on a county ordinance, but we modified it, and ended up making it the strictest,” she said. “I’m not aware of any ordinance that’s stronger.”

Local opposition to the new rules seems to be muted – The Week reported that only two residents protested the changes before the city council voted on October 15 – but various groups across the country are concerned about what these provisions mean for individual privacy.

According to George Koodray of New Jersey’s Citizens Freedom Alliance and the Smoker’s Club, second-hand smoking laws started out trying to protect those who didn’t want to be exposed to smoke, but have now morphed into attempts to control smoking at all costs.

Steve Stanek, a researcher at the Heartland Institute in Chicago, and a non-smoker, said it was another example of the government restricting people’s actions. He noted that Illinois’ criminal code has ballooned from 65 pages to more than 1,300 today.

“My sympathies aren’t with smokers because I am one, it’s because of the huge growth in laws and punishments and government restricting people more and more,” Stanek told ABC. “The encroachment of government is astonishing.”

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