San Rafael smokers will find it more difficult to light up thanks to a new smoking ban the San Rafael City Council unanimously passed this week.
The ban prohibits smoking on downtown sidewalks, in local parks as well as indoors and outside of duplexes and multi-family houses. The ordinance, which is one of the toughest anti-tobacco laws in Marin, was put in place with the hope to protect people against the dangers of secondhand smoke, reduce fire hazards and reduce property damage caused by tobacco smoke.
“This ordinance is not a case of the government arbitrarily swooping in to impinge on individual freedoms,” Councilman Damon Connolly said at the meeting. “It was born from a drum beat of concerns from residents.”
San Rafael regulates the sale of tobacco products, but the city earned a “C” grade on the 2012 annual State of Tobacco Control report, produced by the American Lung Association, due to low scores in outdoor air and smoke-free housing. The new ordinance, which is the first in Marin to ban smoking in apartments, will bring the city’s grade up to an “A.”
Other than protecting people from the health hazards of secondhand smoke, the ban is also meant to protect property owners from any cigarette-related damages to apartments or condos that could result in higher rents, according to San Rafael city staff.
In November 2011, several residents of a condo on 123 Knollwood Dr. were displaced after a fire destroyed their homes and killed an elderly woman. The fire was sparked by a cigarette.
Two of the victims, Morven Seib and Eraina Von Staufeen, appeared at the public hearing to show their support for the ordinance. “We’re still not in our homes today,” Von Staufeen said.
Landlords, community centers and business owners can create designated smoking areas that are subject to restrictions. These areas will be 20 feet away from areas of employment, 100 feet away from playgrounds or recreation centers and can not be in enclosed area.
Police will enforce the ban based on complaints, and landlords will add the new prohibitions into their leases. The city estimates that new “No Smoking” signs will cost the city around $12,000, but it is unknown what the cost of the extra enforcement personnel will be.
To some, designated smoking areas don’t carry much weight. Zack Edison said that 32 people out of 100 still inhale second hand smoke at the Bocce courts at the San Rafael Community Center, even though the smokers are in a designated area. “The designated smoking areas are pretty useless,” he said. “It doesn’t have any teeth.”
Councilman Andrew McCullough wondered if the restrictions would result in low-income smokers being evicted by landlords for violating the ban when some downtown apartments will not be able to meet criteria for designated smoking areas. “My concern is for the people living in an area where there is not feasible alternative,” he said.
The council will evaluate any problems that arise with the ban in 12 months. It will go into effect by mid-November.
“Please keep the boldness of this ordinance in place,” said San Rafael resident Jan Collier. Collier said that although she doesn’t smoke, she inhales second smoke from her neighbors in her apartment complex from 7 a.m. to midnight. “[This ban] doesn’t just change lives, it saves lives,” she said.
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