Island Talkback: Make Alameda smoke free
On Tuesday, April 5, the City Council will start to hear recommendations for controlling secondhand tobacco smoke. This is long overdue and Alameda is very late in addressing this issue considering this is such a huge public health and economic issue. State laws are very broad and it is up to each locality to pass their own. For example, there are no constraints in Alameda on smoking in a hotel lobby.
The American Lung Association compares local City Council ordinances and produces a report that shows Alameda scoring a failing grade in four different categories, namely:
1. Indoor air
2. Outdoor air
3. Multi-unit housing
4. Reducing Access to Tobacco Products
In contrast, Union City scores all A’s.
The hotel lobby example above falls into the indoor air category, as does smoking in hotel and motel rooms, banquet rooms, small businesses with less than six employees, residences used as licensed child care facilities and health care, taxi cabs, tobacco retailers and truck cabs.
The outdoor air issues address smoking in doorways, parks, service areas, dining, public events, sidewalks, and outdoor workplaces. For example, it’s permissible in Alameda to stand in the doorway of a restaurant and smoke a cigarette – as I am sure you might have noticed by walking down Park Street. And there’s nothing to stop someone from lighting up in a park while your children are at play.
The good news is that by having delayed in dealing with this issue, Alameda has a chance to get it right the first time. Bay Area localities that have already passed secondhand smoke ordinances are now dealing with the issues of enforcement and finding that good intentions have unintended consequences. Simple, straightforward edicts are easier to mandate, easier to comprehend and follow.
I won’t comment about tobacco control issues, however the issue of smoking in multi-unit housing is very familiar to me. I live in multi-unit housing and serve on the board of a homeowners association that has been dealing with smoking issues. In the absence of ordinances, every board is faced with dealing with similar issues. Our own experience is I am sure anecdotal of many.
Our building does not have any smoking rules and we have no way of effectively dealing with secondhand smoking complaints. About all we can do is censure residents for carelessly discarding cigarette butts. It has proved too difficult for us to change our CC&R’s.
We have some renters in our building who are subject to clauses in their leases. If the information I have from the three large property management companies in Alameda is correct, almost all leases signed in Alameda have a no-smoking clause and our renters are the same. Hence any new restrictions would not impose any additional constraints on renters.
After having first-hand experience of dealing with secondhand smoke issues, I have come to the conclusion that all multi-unit housing in Alameda should be made 100 percent smoke free and rule breakers subject to a nuisance complaint.
This might seem harsh and unfair to smokers, however cigarette smoke pollution is much more unfair to the majority of people who do not smoke (9:1). I sympathize with fair-minded, well-meaning non-smokers, who want to preserve freedoms by being willing to give up their right to clean air to permit smokers to continue to indulge themselves. However if they had a greater realization of the danger of secondhand smoke and lived in close proximity to a smoker, they would feel differently.
There are several half measures that the council could impose which in total could have similar results to a 100 percent no-smoking policy. However imposing any one but not all of them creates unwanted side-effects – simply because it’s impossible to control cigarette smoke which perniciously filters into every nook and cranny of a building.
The list starts with simple restrictions on smoking in specific areas such as common areas like laundry rooms and exclusive use common areas like garages and patios, in rooms that share a ventilation system with another unit like the kitchen and bathroom; and within 25 feet of the property line.
Imposing a mandate to disclose in the sale of a unit whether or not the owners, tenants or neighbors were smokers, would have a direct economic impact, and make owners think hard.
Another proposal would be to allow a resident to file a nuisance complaint against a neighbor whose secondhand smoke was entering their living space. This could be substantiated by written testimony of two independent observers, since there is no scientifically-approved or standardized equipment for smoke detection.
If you study any of the piecemeal options they can easily become subjective, open to interpretation and a lawsuit. Better then to simply say, “all multi-unit buildings in Alameda shall be smoke free.”
Adrian Blakey has lived in Alameda for almost 20 years and has worked in technology for 30 years. In the past couple of years he’s had to become more involved with community issues like secondhand tobacco smoke, after dealing with them first-hand.
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