New Laws Ban Smoking at Home

Will the new laws really make people quit smoking or will they just find ways around them?

Sometimes cigarette smokers get a bad rap.

I’m not a smoker, but I do feel for them at times, because their chosen decision to smoke has been almost criminalized.

When smokers were forced to leave bars and restaurants, many believed it was a great idea, and although there were obviously some critics of the new smoking laws, there surprisingly wasn’t too much push-back from either smokers or non-smokers.

In the Southern California enclave of Burbank, my collegue Truman Lewis reports that smoking is now strictly forbidden in all areas of the apartment complex he occupies, including balconies.  This is the result of the Secondhand Smoke Control Ordinance adopted way back on April 3, 2007. The ordinance prohibits smoking in specific locations throughout the city, including multi-family residences.

Truman says this hasn't stopped him from enjoying an evening cigar on his balcony.

"The balcony overlooks the 134 (freeway). Does a single cigar really cause more pollution than ten lanes of traffic?" Lewis wonders. 

A Burbank no-smoking sign

Farther north, a new law in San Rafael provides that smoking will not be allowed in multi-family homes, duplexes or condominiums -- and some may ask, if smokers can’t smoke in their own homes or in restaurants, where should they go to smoke? (The answer, of course, is that they must buy a single-family home on a big lot and keep the windows closed).

“We are happy to blaze a trail, said the mayor of San Rafael, Gary Phillips. “We’re most happy to be in the forefront of the issue because we think it will greatly benefit our residents and those visiting San Rafael, and we think it will set the tone for other cities as well.”

Smoking will also be forbidden in the downtown streets and sidewalks of San Rafael.

Smoke slithers

The primary reason for the new law is that second-hand smoke easily travels through vents, air ducts and hallways of apartment buildings and condominiums, thus potentially affecting other families and households in the  complex.

It's not just cities. States are considering putting these kinds of laws into place in an effort to make smoking so inconvenient for smokers that they’ll eventually quit.  

But does that work? Does imposing strict laws on people really get them to give up a particular lifestyle, even if that lifestyle is bad for them health-wise?  Anyone who has seen a person addicted to drugs could probably answer that question pretty easily.

Critics say the smoking ban robs folks of the option of being themselves in the privacy of their own home, and is a form of punishment for people who choose to go against the health warnings attached to smoking.

“This proposed smoking ban actually intends to punish people for what they do in their own homes,” said a critic of the ban, Thomas Ruppenthal, to the San Rafael city council. “I really feel this is tyranny.”

However, proponents of the new law say it will definitely discourage smoking across the California city, and the statistics prove it.

“The San Rafael ban is a very significant event because it will spread," said Stanford University professor Robert Proctor in an interview. “We’re on the downslope of a big curve. Smoking peaked in 1981 with 630 billion cigarettes sold in the United States. Now it’s down to 350 billion. And that number will keep on going down until smoking is a distant memory.”

Enforcement questions

However the question is, how will officials really keep people from smoking in their homes? Will the new law create a bunch of 911 calls or complaints to the police, because a non-smoker smells smoke in their apartment? Some would say those non-smokers would have good reason to make sure the law is enforced.

Up in the wine country, a Healdsburg, Calif., resident told us he resigned from his condominium association board because he was tired of dealing with complaints about second-hand smoke.

"People keep their noses pressed to the vents, hoping to gather evidence on their neighbors. Who has time for that?" he asked. "I could be over at the tasting room instead."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), second-hand smoke contains about 250 known toxins and 50 chemicals that can cause cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

In addition, more than 126 million non-smokers inhale secondhand smoke from places like their jobs, vehicles and you guessed it, in their homes.

No escape

But the question remains, where will smokers go where they’re not affecting others with their cigarettes, pipes, or cigars?  They won't be able to go outside much longer. Cities are beginning to ban smoking in all public areas, including the outdoors -- and not just in health-obsessed California.

The Metro subway system in the Washington, D.C., area strictly forbids smoking on its outside sidewalks, escalators and so forth. Tickets are issued with some frequency. (And don't you dare try eating a banana or snack bar either). 

New York City imposed an outdoor citywide smoking ban earlier this year. The law, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed in February, makes smoking illegal in New York City's 1,700 parks and on the city's 14 miles of public beaches. Smoking is also be prohibited in pedestrian plazas like Times Square and within a certain number of feet of building exits.

Think you can retreat to the wilderness? Not likely. Smoking and open fires are verboten in many areas of national parks, forests and so forth. Smoking might still be OK on glaciers but they, as we know, are melting. 

Some airports now have smoking rooms -- usually resembling holding cells. Guess that might become the last resort. But would you have to buy an airline ticket just to get into the airport to have a smoke?

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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