Smoke-free housing legislative efforts advance at city and state levels

The San Diego Smoke-free Project and the Tobacco Free Communities Coalition receive many calls from people complaining about secondhand smoke inside their apartments.  This public health concern has led the Smoke Free Project and its partners in the health community to work together to find a policy solution to reduce secondhand smoke exposure in apartments and condominiums in the City of San Diego.  After gathering data and public opinion about this issue, the Smoke-free Project made a presentation to the city’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee in 2009.

Because of the presentation and public comments from residents, the committee ordered a task force to be formed to explore a policy solution. To get buy-in from those who would be impacted by such a policy, the Smoke-free Project invited all stakeholders involved in housing matters to participate, including apartment associations, managers, landlords, tenants, researchers, tenants legal rights groups and agencies working in prevention.

The task force concluded that a nuisance ordinance would be the best option because it would ensure that the issue would be largely dealt with on a tenant-to-tenant basis with limited enforcement required by apartment managers or owners.  The ordinance would serve as a tool that landlords and tenants could utilize to reduce the impact of secondhand smoke or marijuana smoke in apartment complexes. It also could be utilized by tenant legal rights groups as a means to reach agreements between tenants before taking civil action.

The Smoke-Free Project recognizes that emotions run high around this issue. There are conflicting perspectives about smokers’ and nonsmokers’ rights, but current state legislation has clarified that it is within the law to restrict smoking in multi-unit settings, including inside units.  On Sept. 7, 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 332 into law.

Senator Alex Padilla introduced SB332 to expand the availability of smoke-free housing in California by allowing landlords to prohibit smoking in rental units. “While more than 86 percent of Californians do not smoke, there is currently very little smoke-free housing in California.  Living in multifamily housing should not compromise the health of renters or their children.  This new law will provide tenants with healthier choices,” Padilla said. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2012.

The Smoke-Free Project would like to thank San Diego Councilwoman Marti Emerald for supporting our efforts and working with the city attorney to review the nuisance ordinance submitted to her by the task force. We also would like to thank Senator Padilla for his work on SB332 that will support local municipalities in their efforts to protect multi-unit housing residents from secondhand smoke exposure.

Manuel Andrade and Mary Baum work for the San Diego Smoke-Free Project at Social Advocates for Youth, also known as SAY San Diego. The nonprofit organization has been in existence since 1971.