Petaluma council toughens smoking restrictions

The Petaluma City Council unanimously voted Monday to broaden citywide restrictions on smoking to include private living spaces, medical marijuana and electronic cigarettes.

Most restrictions will take effect in a month in public places, such as bus stops, outdoor dining areas, city parking lots and commercial sidewalks.

The restrictions covering private living quarters will be phased in. In existing apartments, duplexes and condos -- any housing with at least one shared wall -- smoking will be prohibited beginning Dec. 16 to allow for leases to expire and to be changed. New multi-family housing units must be smoke-free by July 16.

Monday's action was a second-reading of the ordinance, usually capped by a pro forma vote with little dialogue.

But questions had been raised since last month's initial discussion, mostly about the inclusion of electronic cigarettes. No objections to regulating medical marijuana use were raised at either meeting.

Petaluma's ordinance was the result of efforts by the American Lung Association and other health groups to protect nonsmokers from exposure to carcinogenic second-hand smoke.

Police Chief Pat Williams and Pam Granger of the Lung Association urged the council to treat e-cigarettes the same as regular cigarette smoke.

An e-cigarette consists of a battery, a heating element and a cartridge that contains a liquid suspension with nicotine. When a user inhales from the cartridge, the liquid is heated and a vapor is emitted. The devices often look like a cigarette or pen.

The federal Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate e-cigarettes that aren't marketed as smoking-cessation aids. Because the safety of e-cigarettes hasn't been fully studied, it is unknown how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals is being inhaled during use or expressed as vapor that could affect someone else.

With a lack of definitive studies, the council decided to restrict the devices.

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