Assemblyman Mark Levine (D-Marin) proposed Assembly Bill 746, which bans smoking in any residential property with two or more units that share a wall, floor, ceiling or ventilation system. Yes, it would be the most sweeping anti-smoking law in the country banning smoking inside condos, apartments, town houses and duplexes. The law would not affect standalone homes.
According to the U.S. Census, nearly 22 percent of housing units in Solano County are in multiple-unit structures. So, if passed, the new law would affect one in five homes.
The first time I heard about this law, I opposed it. It sounded like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s nanny-state soda law that was recently overturned.
After all, your home is your castle. If I want to walk around my house in a red lace thong with an AR-15 strapped to my back and a 64-ounce Big Gulp in one hand, a fat cigar in the other and a double-cheeseburger stuck in my mouth, I should be able to do that.
But there is that pesky problem of secondhand smoke. No one has the right to force someone else to inhale carcinogens in their own home when that smoke seeps through shared walls, plumbing, ventilation and other spaces. And it’s not just the fear of cancer but the fact that passive smoke is responsible for asthma attacks, bronchitis and other illnesses.
Should you have to breathe someone’s smoke just because you live in an apartment?
Like any new law, people will gripe, but the majority will comply. Before California banned smoking in businesses in 1995, people could smoke anywhere. My friend Dan and I would light up cigars in Solano mall and smoke. Young people today can’t imagine that at one time you could smoke in the mall, in stores and restaurants. When the ban came, we complied and I eventually quit smoking altogether.
Fairfield has a tough anti-smoking ordinance in the municipal code, but private residences, of course, are exempted. But many cities such as San Rafael and Petaluma have already instituted residential bans.
Some say the law isn’t fair as it singles out people who can’t afford standalone homes. But if we’re to err in this case, we need to come down on the side of nonsmokers, especially nonsmokers in apartments who can’t afford to move to get away from the smoke.
The law would impose a $100 fine for an infraction and also allow landlords to designate outdoor smoking areas for tenants.
California has been the most aggressive anti-smoking state in the nation and it’s paid off with our smoking rate dropping significantly. We’re the second-lowest smoking state behind Utah. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reviewed academic studies showing these kinds of laws encourage people to stop smoking and they discourage young people from starting.
Both are good things.
Still, a measure like this makes me feel uneasy and it’s not simply because I live in a dwelling that would be affected by this law. It seems too Big Brotherish. There’s something uncomfortable about the government telling us what we can and cannot do in our own homes. It’s that same feeling that many homeowners who live in homeowners associations feel about being told what to do.
But if a landlord can ban smoking, then surely the state can. After all, there is no constitutional right to smoke. And when weighing the rights of smokers vs. nonsmokers, it becomes clear that someone’s right to breathe fresh air in their home trumps someone’s desire to smoke. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is a writer/author. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.