In 2012, the Santa Monica City Council became one of the first cities in California, in fact, in the nation, to recognize the public health problem
created by drifting tobacco smoke in multi-unit housing. It is now well understood that tobacco smoke will travel from the unit or balcony where it
is produced to other units and locations in an apartment or condominium building. Smoke particles can travel through cracks in fixtures, electrical
outlets, plumbing, vents, and baseboards, as well as through shared ventilation systems and windows.
However, the smokefree housing law that was passed in Santa Monica in 2012 has not been comprehensive enough to protect all residents of
multi-unit housing from exposure to tobacco smoke. With the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana and the rising popularity of
electronic cigarettes, the need to protect residents from smoke has increased exponentially. Marijuana smoke and the aerosol (smoke) coming off
of electronic cigarettes both contain carcinogens, just like tobacco smoke.
The Santa Monica Smokefree Housing Ordinance passed in 2012 allows all residents who smoked to continue to smoke in their units. Only when
those residents move out, are their units required to become smokefree. Landlords are asked to inform prospective tenants about the no
smoking law, but are not required to give a no-smoking lease or contract to new tenants. In addition, the ordinance did not include the city
initiating education, enforcement, or follow up. Our Guest Author column in November, 2016, contained stories of residents who were
suffering from drifting tobacco smoke because of the shortcomings in the Santa Monica ordinance.
Fortunately, Berkeley, another California City with rent control, also looked at the problem of drifting tobacco smoke in apartments and
condominiums. That city’s law, which was implemented in May, 2014, resolved the problems that exist in the Santa Monica Ordinance.
First, the Berkeley ordinance required all units in apartments and condominiums to become non-smoking. Like the Santa Monica ordinance,
balconies, patios, and common areas are also required to become non-smoking. So, in Berkeley, no one should be breathing a neighbor’s
tobacco smoke. Landlords or managers in Berkeley are required to provide a no-smoking lease to new tenants as a way to educate them about the
law. But management is not required to enforce the no-smoking law because the city has assumed that responsibility. Since their no smoking law is
not enforced by eviction, Berkeley’s Rent Control law is respected. Landlords can offer a no-smoking lease to existing tenants, but those tenants
are not required to sign it since they arestill required to comply with the law.
Enforcement in Berkeley is triggered by complaints. When city staff receives a first
complaint about a violation of the ordinance, a warning letter is sent to the person who is
smoking along with information about cessation resources. If, after a specified period of time, the
person who made the first complaint complains again, and another person who lives in the same
building makes a complaint about the same unit, the Code Enforcement Department will review
the three complaints and issue a citation. (A citation is similar to a traffic ticket.)
Our source of information in Berkeley was their Tobacco Control Program. According to
that office, by February, 2016, Code Enforcement had received only 40 complaint records. Only
three had proceeded to the citation phase, and all three of those had received more than one
citation. So the city has not been overwhelmed with problems of enforcement. Other cities are
using different enforcement protocols.
Our group, Smoke-Free Living Santa Monica, is hoping that residents of apartments and
condominiums in Santa Monica, especially those who are still suffering from a neighbor’s
tobacco smoke, will contact the mayor and/or their favorite council members. Tell the City
Council that it’s time to review the Santa Monica ordinance and take action to strengthen it. The
Berkeley ordinance provides an excellent model.
Barbara Bronie and Divina Sevilla are members of the steering committee of Smoke-Free Living
Santa Monica. Contact them at email@example.com