What do you guys think? Does the slope continue to get slippery???
Bill favors smokers' neighbors
Assemblyman wants to clear air in apartments, condominiums
Lynda Gledhill, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Sunday, March 9, 2003
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Sacramento -- California has banned smoking in businesses and bars and near playgrounds, but now a San Rafael lawmaker wants to go even further by regulating smoking in apartment and condominium complexes.
Assemblyman Joe Nation said that if apartment dwellers can make nuisance complaints against neighbors who blast stereos at 2 a.m., they should have the same recourse against neighbors who foul the air with secondhand smoke.
"Someone who lives in a multifamily home has the right to breathe clean air, " the Democratic lawmaker said. "Do the rights of the nonsmoker supersede the rights of the smoker? I think it is more important to protect the nonsmoker than to ensure the smoker has a place to smoke."
But critics say that trying to control what people are allowed to do in their own homes is an Orwellian nightmare come true. The plan is unworkable, they say, and pits smoker against nonsmoker, landlord against tenant.
Nation's bill, AB210, which has yet to be heard in a committee, has two parts. First, it would ban smoking from all common areas, including outdoor spots such as pools, and would declare "the drifting, wafting or blowing of tobacco smoke" a nuisance. This would allow renters or landowners to take action against anyone whose lighting up causes a problem.
Then, starting on Jan. 1, 2006, smoking would be prohibited in all housing units unless specifically designated as units where smoking is permitted. Current residents would be exempt until they move into a new unit. Violation of this would lead to a $100 fine.
Exposure to secondhand smoke causes an estimated 3,000 deaths from lung cancer among American adults every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Scientific studies also link secondhand smoke with heart disease.
Nation admitted the bill still needs work, saying details about how the law would be enforced and who would pay or collect the fine still need to be determined. It's not clear whether a landlord or building association could vote to make an entire building a smoking area.
The intent of the bill is to make it easier for people to take legal action if secondhand smoke becomes a nuisance.
Ellen Dolores of Novato wishes she could avoid the smoke in the townhouse next to hers. She said she can't open the windows or garden on her patio without breathing the smoke. Even with the windows closed, it seeps into her bedroom.
"I can't go into their house and point a gun at them, so why can they go into my house and ruin my air?" she asked.
Meredith Cain, 29, also is frustrated by her neighbor's smoke. She and her husband chose their Sunnyvale apartment for their family because it has two large porches. This allows Cain, who is pregnant, to enjoy watching her 2 1/2- year-old son draw with chalk or play with his basketball set without having to go far from home.
"Now our upstairs neighbor is often outside smoking, and it's unbearable," Cain said.
But Martha Hughes lives in an apartment and believes the proposed law is "stupid."
"I don't smoke, but if they want to in their own apartment, that is their business," said the 44-year-old San Franciscan.
Both landowners and tobacco companies are looking closely at the bill, concerned about the invasion of people's privacy and the ability to enforce it.
Banning smoking would set up even more tension between landlords and residents, said Deb Carlton, senior vice president of the California Apartment Association. The group has not yet taken a formal position on the bill.
"This pits owners against tenants," she said. "Owners want all tenants to live in peace and quiet and enjoyment. But they don't want to interfere with their rights in their own units."
Tobacco giant Philip Morris Cos. Inc. opposes the legislation, saying people should have the right to smoke outside and in their own homes.
"An individual's decision to smoke or allow smoking in the privacy of their own home should be respected," said Tom Ryan, a spokesman for the company.
Ryan said the company also is against prohibiting smoking outdoors, except in areas designated for children.
Nation said the idea is to get people to be responsible about their secondhand smoke, perhaps by using ashtrays designed to trap the air.
The American Lung Association of California gets many calls from people who suffer from asthma and are fearful for their lives, said Paul Knepprath, a lobbyist for the association.
"There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke," he said. "We have a toxic pollutant that is wafting about and exposing people in their apartments or condos. We have to protect the health of people in these situations."
Another bill pending in the Legislature for the second time would increase the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21. The bill stalled last year as lawmakers struggled with the realization that they needed money from the tobacco tax to help close the state's budget shortfall.
AB221 by Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, will probably run into the same obstacles this year. Gov. Gray Davis has proposed raising the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.10.
E-mail Lynda Gledhill at firstname.lastname@example.org