Palo Alto's smoking ban may spread to apartment buildings

City also prepares to add restrictions to e-cigarettes

E-cigarettes may soon join their traditional brethren in a Palo Alto law that bans smoking in downtown centers, local parks and outdoor dining establishments. They would not, however, be included in a new cigarette ban that the city is considering for apartment buildings.

In the latest addition to the city's rapidly expanding tobacco ordinance, a City Council committee is set to consider on May 12 a proposal to ban indoor smoking at multi-family complex throughout the city. The council suggested this restriction last year but stopped short of adopting it because it wanted staff to do more research and outreach.

Now, the results of the research are in and staff is recommending moving forward with banning indoor smoking at multi-family complexes. In March, the city mailed out more than 8,500 postcards to landlords and tenants at multi-family units, directing them to the online survey. Of the 505 respondents, 96 percent lived in multi-family units and 95 percent were non-smokers. Nine landlords also responded, with five saying that their complexes currently allow smoking and four saying it's prohibited.

The vast majority of the respondents – 90 percent – said they were in favor of smoking restrictions. From this group, 82 percent supported banning it in all units, 72 percent supported a restriction in indoor common areas and 68 percent said smoking should be banned in outdoor common areas.

The survey also showed 80 percent indicating that smoking inside units bothers them and 64 percent indicating it bothers them "very much."

The results encouraged staff to recommend smoking restrictions in multi-family units, a policy that is already in place in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, San Rafael, Belmont, Richmond and Walnut Creek, according to a new report from Public Works.

The report notes that many of the survey respondents "are concerned about their children being exposed to second-hand smoke or have health concerns that are exacerbated by their neighbors' smoking." Some, however, voiced concerns about restricting smoke inside the apartments and "infringing on property rights."

Staff also recommends including electronic cigarettes, which are currently not subject to any restrictions, in the local ordinance. With studies showing e-cigarettes rising in popularity among high school students and with various other cities (Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara among them) recently moving to restrict them, Palo Alto may soon follow suit.

But because e-cigarettes don't release traditional smoke but rather a "smoke-like aerosol," staff does not recommend including them in the new restriction on multi-family units. That's because there is no evidence, according to staff, that vapor moves between units.

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19 people like this
Posted by pot?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 2, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Will pot smoking also been banned? In SF, it's exempted (naturally).

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Probably time to designate all places non-smoking unless posted otherwise and have some designated smoking places. I don't like to see people standing in parking lots smoking that I have to cross to get to my car. I wonder if there is any correlation between people smoking in parking lots and vehicle break-ins?

I think having designated smoking places would be a much better idea than a long list of places where you can't smoke! Then those smokers can group together hidden behind smoke tolerant plantings and use the provided butt disposal bins before leaving to go back to wherever they usually go. That way smokers can monitor each other's behavior too.

4 people like this
Posted by @resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2015 at 8:02 pm

really? you're worried about walking by a smoker to walk to your CAR?? wtf do you think comes out of your tailpipe??? (or gets released into the air wthen the batteries for your prius are made)...while i'm all for no smoking at work and restaurants, this anti-smoking effort is going too far...

and as for cannabis smoke there is NOTHING to link it to any harm - go read the research of the late ucla doctor and professor donald tashkin. (btw he went into his research to PROVE cannabis causes cancer and found the opposite)

12 people like this
Posted by stop smoking
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 2, 2015 at 9:45 pm

It's 2015...why would anyone smoke. Have they learned nothing?

6 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2015 at 9:54 pm

This is wonderful news as long as they include multi-unit dwellings that are both owner- and renter-occupied!

2 people like this
Posted by Michael J. McFadden
a resident of another community
on May 3, 2015 at 9:51 pm

resident, you wrote to another "Resident," "really? you're worried about walking by a smoker to walk to your CAR??"

Yes, they DO actually worry about stuff like that. In pushing campus outdoor bans they talk about students having to walk through "Clouds of Smokers" by doorways and how they're going to get cancer from it. Heh, when you actually run the numbers straight from the Antismokers' own "Bible" -- the EPA Report -- and apply the proper concentration/duration adjustments, it turns out that there MIGHT be a case of ONE extra lung cancer on those campuses for every TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILLION STUDENT-YEARS of walking into or out of such a doorway every single day of the year!

[Portion removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2015 at 10:10 pm

I am in fact not worried about the cancer aspect, just that I don't like walking through the fog. I don't like walking around a parking lot where people are obviously drunk either. If people are throwing up and/or urinating right beside my car, it is very unpleasant. If they are smoking, I consider it antisocial and unpleasant.

Smoking is unpleasant behavior and the fact that people congregate to do it in public places is wrong. I would much rather there be designated smoking zones that I can easily avoid rather than having to put up with them where I can't avoid.

Back in the day, I have worked in offices where people were allowed to smoke. I came home with my clothes smelling like an ashtray. I am pleased that this is something that no longer is an issue.

5 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on May 3, 2015 at 10:21 pm

@Resident, without the cancer aspect though, your argument literally becomes "I don't like something so I want it banned"

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2015 at 10:29 pm

Not entirely. I want designated places where smoking is allowed. That is not saying that I want it banned.

There is freedom of choice and I want to be able to choose to walk in clean air. I want smoker the freedom of choice to smoke, but I think there should be certain places where it is allowed. Drinking alcohol while walking along the street and in public places such as parks and parking lots isn't allowed and I think smoking should be the same. I don't want to prevent people from drinking alcohol, but I do want the places where they can do it legally monitored. I don't see why smoking shouldn't be the same.

2 people like this
Posted by Michael J. McFadden
a resident of another community
on May 4, 2015 at 9:24 am

Resident, you say, "Not entirely. I want designated places where smoking is allowed. That is not saying that I want it banned."

So you would have no problem with designated bars or restaurants etc where the owners wanted to allow smoking?

Also, you noted, "I don't want to prevent people from drinking alcohol, but I do want the places where they can do it legally monitored."

I think your focus on the "legally monitored" part is important here: alcohol changes the way people behave, often in undesirable ways that are clearly and immediately harmful. I think that's the real root of the desire to have public consumption limited to places that are, as you say, "legally monitored." Smoking does not have that effect.

This is all a bit away from the article though. I don't think I can see a sound argument here for passing a law that would allow only the stand-alone-home-owning elite to smoke in their homes. If it's a question of "secondhand smoke" going from one apartment to another, there are two things to consider:

1) If you're living in a smoke-banned building you'll never know if it meets the fire codes protecting residents from smoke from other units during a fire. If you're living in a Free Choice building and you smell smoke, it will alert you that you should complain and have the building checked for such safety compliance. Smoking bans cost lives.

2) If you read the comments thread at:

Web Link

you'll see how even the star witness at a trial about smoking in condos was (A) completely unable to demonstrate any real smoke exposure problems with his sophisticated monitoring equipment; and (B) was completely unwilling to answer even basic questions put to him in the forum.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2015 at 9:35 am

No, I definitely do not want designated bars or restaurants where smoking is allowed.

However, I do think that as we ban more and more places from smoking it comes to a time that we have to be realistic. Taking downtown for instance, a certain amount of "out of the way space" perhaps a corner of Town Square Plaza could be made a smoking place. Surround a small area, about the size of say 10 - 12 square feet, with some tolerant plants about 6' tall and a small entrance. Inside put several butt containers, and let the smokers go there and smoke away from the general public.

I was staying in a small hotel in Europe a couple of years back that had this type of arrangement outside near their beer garden. It was the only place in the whole hotel, parking lot, beer garden, etc. where smoking was allowed. It was an attractive spot and private but yet visible enough that you could see the lone smoker standing inside for a couple of minutes. Even during the bustle of an outdoor wedding party, I only noticed one or two people escaping there for a quick smoke. It worked very well, in my opinion. The smoke never drifted into the general public areas and the smoker had a reasonably pleasant place to stand and smoke. I think this would work really well in downtown as well as other parks or public places.

2 people like this
Posted by Dennis
a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2015 at 12:15 pm

To paraphrase: "Saint Peter can't you wait/I've just gotta find a place to smoke a cigarette."

2 people like this
Posted by Dennis
a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2015 at 12:15 pm

To paraphrase: "Saint Peter can't you wait/I've just gotta find a place to smoke a cigarette."

17 people like this
Posted by Parentofkid with asthma
a resident of another community
on May 4, 2015 at 1:25 pm

I will be glad if this passes and becomes the norm. I live in a townhome community. Both my neighbors smoke in the common areas and I am unable to leave my windows open. My kid has asthma and he is unable to go out and play when these folks smoke. I talked to the neighbors about it and their excuse ranges from spouses cannot tolerate smoking in the house, triggers the alarm, they are allowed to smoke in their patios...we petitioned the HOA board but since there was no directive on this, the board could not do anything about them. So I am very excited if this sees the light of day. One person's right to smoke should not trump another's ( especially children or those with respiratory disorders) right to clean air.

3 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 4, 2015 at 3:30 pm

I am not a smoker, never have been. Whereas I do agree there should be designated smoking spots, the advocates for banning smoking mostly come off as being on a self-righteous moral crusade. Which means they get the council's attention and good sense goes out the door.

Banning e-cigarettes may make proponents of the ban feel self-righteous, but is quite mean spirited. But we should be encouraging smokers to give up this dangerous habit and using e-cigarettes are a great tool to help them do that. It is unfortunate that it has become a fad with teenagers, but perhaps it will encourage teenagers already smoking to give up while still appearing cool.

This is also class thing. It will mostly affect people who can't afford to buy a home in Palo Alto and have to rent while not affecting the rich who own their own homes or can afford to pay the huge rents homes now go for.

13 people like this
Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 5, 2015 at 1:46 am

PA mom is a registered user.

I lived in two apartment buildings next to smokers; the smoke seeped in through the vents, walls and under my door. The common hallway wreaked. My apartment I shared with my infant son stank—bad. It has nothing to do with being self-righteous and it's not a moral issue—it's an air issue. It's disgusting and it's time to spare the air.

11 people like this
Posted by CondoOwner
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2015 at 9:01 am

I really hope this happens. Sharing the air through the same ventilation system is really a bad situation and if this ban happens at least we will know that we will not be inhaling second hand smoke from other units anymore. Also, the patios are so close together in multi-dwellings that if your neighbor is smoking on their patio the smoke goes into the surrounding patios of other units. The patios are not far enough away to avoid the smoke.

3 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2015 at 10:19 am

Can we ban people who haven't bathed for a few days from city streets too, how about babies with dirty diaper,strong perfumes,dogs crapping. Oh and barbeques in your own backyard that infiltrate into a neighbors yard.
Come on people smoking is not illegal, yeah I too can't stand the smell of someone smoking but that's all it is a smell. Stop persecuting smokers after all it is supposed to be an addiction, hence an illness.

15 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2015 at 11:01 am

I am a Conservative with strong Libertarian views on most matters of morality or when the law is less clear. I embrace the old maxim: "When in doubt, it is better to err on the side of liberty."

Smoking is not always an individual liberty issue. Like other issues in which laws are needed or required in order to clarify the limits of freedom in societies of majority consent, smoking has consequences that affect individuals other than the smoker. Secondhand smoke kills. Not only can it kill, but it harms others around them in many ways (e.g., asthma, respiratory infections, headaches, etc...). In the United States, secondhand smoke kills more than 41,000 people per year. See: Web Link

The way that I see it, smoking prohibition ordinances in privately-owned apartments is no different than other ordinances in which the "non-participant" inadvertently becomes a participant. For instance, "indecent exposure" is still a crime because it affects the victim (often a child) emotionally and psychologically. Secondhand smoke doesn't affect the psychology of the victim. It affects the victim's health.

I have no problem if people want to smoke. If a person wants to smoke, then I have no issue with it (as long as their behavior is accounted for in terms of health insurance purposes and costs aren't distributed to non-smokers). However, I do have issues with individuals who harm others -- including children -- because of their habit.

The government doesn't allow the sale of illicit drugs -- even if the only person physically harmed by them is the person using them -- because of how they affect society. Drug users are much more likely to cause expense on those around them or society in general (e.g., healthcare, depletion of entitlement expenses, etc...). The same is true of smoking. Although it is legal, it shouldn't be legal in all circumstances. Children shouldn't be allowed to smoke. Adults who smoke shouldn't be allowed to spread their secondhand smoke to children (or non-consenting adults).

While there is an argument about "exhaust" from vehicles being just as deadly, that is an entirely different argument that can be had for another day. I will say this: I have lived in apartments where windows are open most of the day (particularly in the summer). I would rather a car drive by than have a person with a cigarette walk by in front of our window fan. Most of the time, I don't smell or detect any vehicles driving by. However, I always detect the secondhand smoke of a person walking.

On a personal note: My husband's aunt passed away last year from cancer. There was no history of cancer in her family. However, her husband was a chain smoker. Their house and property reeks of cigarette smoke. We visited their home from time-to-time and you feel like you need to hold your breath. Your clothing reeks of smoke when you leave. My husband's uncle feels a terrible sense of guilt because he believes that his years of smoking -- and exposing his wife to secondhand smoke -- contributed to her health issues and, ultimately, death from cancer.

In this anecdote, the man owned his own home (in Southern California) and had a right to smoke since my husband's aunt consented to it. Apartment residents do not consent to it. Either apartment complexes should have an ability to label their units (and adjacent units) as "smoking zones" or they should be restricted altogether.

Like this comment
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 5, 2015 at 12:39 pm

"smoke-like aerosol" ? You must include nicotine and carcinogens in that description.

Like this comment
Posted by Roger
a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Yes I accept that second hand smoke kills, if it is breathed in in large quantities over a long period of time,that's not what we are talking about.
Smoking a cigarette is not illegal and if you walk past someone smoking you are not going to die. There are more carcinogens in barbeque smoke, should we ban that too.

Like this comment
Posted by Roger
a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Oh and over 50,000 people die each year in car accidents, lets ban cars too.
Let me see what else we can add to the list.
Alcohol,walking and texting,owning a gun,or a knife,flying, walking at night or riding a bike with dark clothing, walking off a sidewalk without checking traffic.
Its all subjective.

15 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2015 at 1:35 pm

@ Roger: We aren't debating whether or not a person should be able to smoke while they walk down the street, on a beach or in a park. We are talking about smoking in apartment buildings.

You compared smoking with a barbeque. Someone else compared it with a vehicle's emissions. Yes, those things are legal. However, I don't think that it should be permitted for someone to barbeque (without proper exhaust) in their apartment or operate a motor vehicle indoors because the fumes would seep through the walls, vents and ceiling and affect the neighbors.

This is the difference. A person living in an apartment cannot choose to escape the smoke and secondhand smoke seeping through the walls, vents, ceiling or windows. Do you see the difference?

I have no problem with someone who smokes as long as that doesn't effect anyone around them -- particularly in apartments where some people are indentured to that secondhand smoke 24/7. The same cannot be said of guns, knives, riding a bike with dark clothing, walking, car exhaust, bbq smoke, etc... I also wouldn't have a problem with "designated" smoking apartments -- where a property owner could designate their rental properties as "smoker-friendly" units where people could willingly apply to those housing units.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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