Viewpoint - September 15, 2010

Editorial: Time for smokers to be responsible

Smoking is a smelly habit that everyone loves to hate, including many who are addicted to cigarettes. Long ago declared a health hazard by the U.S. Surgeon General, the California Air Resources Board and the state and federal environmental protection agencies, cigarettes are probably the world's best-known legalized health hazard.

Smoking is banned in most indoor workplaces and in most public places throughout California, and some communities, notably Belmont on the Peninsula, have piled on more regulations that attempt to protect the rights of non-smokers — said to be 86 percent of Californians — from second-hand smoke.

Given the overwhelming evidence that smoking is a health hazard for smokers and everyone around them who can breathe second-hand smoke, it should be easy for the Menlo Park City Council to pass a tough anti-smoking ordinance on Tuesday, Sept. 14. The ordinance was passed 4-1 in March but was pulled back so that some language could be revised.

The council was pressed to adopt new smoking regulations by Barbara Franklin, a resident of Sand Hill Circle, who was bothered by second-hand smoke from her downstairs neighbor. After months of effort, she convinced her condominium association to pass a regulation governing second-hand smoke in the common areas of her complex and since then has pressed the City Council to follow suit.

Perhaps inspired by Ms. Franklin, the most controversial part of the proposed ordinance is a section that declares second-hand smoke a nuisance, and authorizes a private citizen to bring a legal action against a person whose smoke is entering a unit of a multi-unit residence. The new regulation, if included and passed in the ordinance, would give non-smokers a persuasive tool to force people to smoke outside their condominium or apartment unit.

Living with someone else's smoke can make life miserable, as it did for this apartment dweller, who wrote on the Almanac's Town Square:

"The second hand cigarette smoke in my last apartment was so overwhelming I finally moved. The forced air heating sucked the smoke out of my neighbor's apartment and moved it into mine. My apartment smelled like a smoker's apartment. Even my clothes hanging in the closet smelled like cigarette smoke. Smoke can travel through the tiniest spaces including electrical outlets. There's really no way to keep it out."

We suspect there are hundreds or more examples of residents who are forced to live with second-hand smoke. The City Council is well within its rights to pass an ordinance that protects residents from such a noxious health hazard. State law already prohibits smoking in most indoor job sites, children's playgrounds and tot lots, and around the entrances and exits of public buildings. And state law expressly authorizes local governments to pass additional restrictions on smoking.

The proposed Menlo Park ordinance would prohibit smoking in enclosed places like restaurants, businesses and work areas, and outdoor areas of restaurants, businesses and public recreation areas. Other language covers where smoking can be permitted in outdoor areas of apartment buildings and parking lots.

For non-smokers, nothing is worse than being forced to breathe and smell second-hand smoke. It will be a breath of fresh air when this ordinance passes, and when it does, we hope that smokers will understand that it is not them, but their habit, that is being asked to leave the building.


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