Almanac

News - March 3, 2010

Smoking law could have broad reach

by Sean Howell

People who smoke cigarettes may find themselves pausing to examine their surroundings more often when they're within the borders of Menlo Park, if the city tightens its smoking ordinance as expected.

The changes the City Council will consider at its March 2 meeting would prohibit smoking in public parks, places of congregation such as ATM machines and bus stops, near openings to buildings such as windows and vents, and in common areas within multi-unit residences.

Perhaps most significantly, the ordinance would declare second-hand smoke a nuisance — enabling people to take legal action against others who smoke in their vicinity, such as in an adjoining apartment or condo unit.

The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, located in the Civic Center complex between Laurel and Alma streets.

The city drafted the ordinance in response to an extraordinary lobbying effort by Barbara Franklin, who decided to take up the issue after she was bothered by smoke wafting into her condominium unit from an apartment below hers. She began making presentations to the council about the dangers of secondhand smoke in late 2008, and has attended most council meetings since then, often sitting through the several hours of the meeting.

The council has received a trickle of correspondence about the issue from residents since then, with several people making nuanced arguments about how far the ordinance should go. But there has not been much organized opposition thus far, from real estate agents or other groups.

The revised ordinance would also enable the city to enforce a San Mateo County law, requiring tobacco vendors to obtain permits from the county. Some believe that requirement would decrease the incidence of vendors selling cigarettes to minors.

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