CITY HALL — Smokers who enjoy an occasional drag out on their patios better light up while they still can.

That’s because the City Council on Tuesday voted to strengthen Santa Monica’s already strict anti-smoking laws, adding a restriction that bars people from lighting up within 25-feet of a door or window in any multi-unit residential building. This ban adds to rules in place that prohibit smoking on the city’s beaches, the Third Street Promenade and outdoor dining areas.

The new rule, adopted by a 4-1 vote, is aimed at preventing people from smoking on private balconies or patios that are close to neighboring apartments or condos and fulfills a longtime goal of anti-smoking activists.

Mayor Bobby Shriver said he was in favor of creating the new rule but cast the dissenting vote because he said he believed the council should have approved additional measures to curb secondhand smoke, including a rule that would have required apartment owners to designate certain units as non-smoking.

The council majority indicated interest in eventually enacting the so-called “designate and disclose” rule for non-smoking units but opted to postpone considering the measure, citing concerns the restriction could lead to evictions.

“One of the concerns with secondhand smoke laws has been giving landlords new tools to harass and evict lower-income, lower-rent tenants,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown.

McKeown and council members Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day said the council should wait until after November’s election, when voters may approve new eviction protections for tenants, to consider additional smoking restrictions.

“The passage of the renter protection measure in November would alleviate some of those concerns, and let us move forward with stronger secondhand smoke protections,” McKeown said.

The new restriction on smoking near apartment and condo buildings augments a ban on smoking in multi-unit common areas that took effect in March of 2009.

The new smoking restriction will begin in September.

There’s no fine for violating the law, but transgressors could be held to account in small claims court. Under the current ban in common areas neighbors are responsible for enforcing the law by filing suit against neighbors who smoke. Penalties start at $100.

On Tuesday, several council members questioned whether using the small claims court to enforce smoking laws was effective and asked staff to return with options for changing how the laws are enforced.

Possibilities include giving City Hall’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment authority to enforce smoking laws or using a dispute resolution service to help resolve problems between smokers and their neighbors.

City Hall staff was also asked to look into banning smoking at newly constructed apartment buildings and hotels.

Despite Shriver’s dissenting vote, the council was united in its support for stronger protections for non-smokers.

“If you want to smoke, go take a walk,” Councilman Bob Holbrook said during the panel’s discussion.

McKeown said the new restriction will address the concern raised most often by those opposed to secondhand smoke.

“Based on months of correspondence from residents still bothered by secondhand smoke, we realized balconies and patios were the biggest remaining problem — and they will be covered by the new 25-foot rule,” he said.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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