The organization hopes neighborhood groups can help, and it's willing to fund them to do so, CEO and President Margo Leathers Sidener said during a community meeting Tuesday night.
A new ordinance could prohibit smoking in all public areas, including sidewalks, parking lots and garages, streets, private and public outdoor recreational areas and within the interior of apartments and condominiums and in the common areas of such dwellings. It could also require a 20-plus-foot no-smoking buffer around all areas where smoking is prohibited.
The City of Palo Alto has already considered potential changes to toughen its smoking ordinance. Last June, the City Council's Policy and Services Committee directed city staff to explore a new program to require all tobacco retailers to be licensed annually to ensure compliance with not selling tobacco to minors. A police sting operation in spring 2010 found that half of retailers approached sold tobacco to minors. Ten percent of children in Santa Clara County are smokers, Sidener said, citing a survey.
"We want a law to include a provision to take a license away from retailers that sell to minors. To us at Breathe California, the most important thing is we need something with teeth in it," she said.
Palo Alto was a leader in the 1970s in implementing a smoking ordinance but has lagged in recent years, Sidener said. It hasn't taken action since the June meeting.
Palo Alto would be eligible to receive more than $51,000 from the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department if it were to implement a tobacco-prevention initiative. But that funding ends March 18, she said.
So Breathe California is trying to engage public awareness through neighborhoods to help spur the ordinance. Interested neighborhoods could receive $500 to $1,000 to host meetings, add messages to their websites, issue mailings and host talks. Some grants go as high as $6,000, she said.
"We need to come up with a platform to tell the city what the community thinks," Sidener said.
But with so many pressing neighborhood issues, Sidener said the push would probably have to come from affected individuals rather than neighborhoods taking up the policy as an official stance.
University South Neighborhood Association President Elaine Meyer said she took notice after a neighbor living in a condominium told Meyer she would probably sell her unit because the people downstairs are smokers, and the ventilation system carried smoke into her condo.
"She was terribly upset about the smoking," Meyer said. "It opened my eyes to let people know what's happening."
Smoke can have particularly adverse effects on people with chronic illnesses, the elderly and children, said Crescent Park resident Terry Trumbull, a longtime Breathe California volunteer and San Jose State University environmental studies lecturer.
Trumbull said that at one senior-housing facility where he lectured the residents organized to change the rules, and smoking within the units is now banned.
"The private-property argument doesn't hold much water if there's a common ventilation system," he said.
In most cases, apartment landlords aren't likely to confront residents who smoke, but landlords who have smoke-free buildings have found advantages. Units have lower cleaning costs, he said.
Sidener said Santa Clara County has the lowest smoking rate in the state. Only 10 percent of the population smokes.
"It doesn't make sense on a fairness level to allow them to affect everyone else," she said.