The most surprising aspect of the Petaluma City Council's vote to strengthen the city's smoking ordinance was the opposition to it. There wasn't much.
Although the ordinance included a controversial move to ban smoking inside apartment and condominium complexes as well as hotels, restricting smoking to designated outside areas, city officials found that few property owners had a problem with the changes.
"Essentially, most of the complexes are already smoke free," Police Chief Pat Williams told the City Council.
Staff reported that owners of 16 of the major housing complexes in Petaluma didn't see a problem with the revised rules because most of them already banned or restricted smoking or did not have any smokers among their tenants. Officials also found that of the 558 hotel and motel rooms in the city, only 53 are now designated as smoking rooms, and that's on target to drop to 31 by March 1.
The proposal that went before the City Council called for allowing no more than 20 percent of a hotel's rooms be designated for smokers. But the council took it one step further, banning smoking in hotels and motels entirely. The expanded ordinance also prohibits smoking in certain outdoor locations, including private balconies, courtyards and bus stops.
There was a time when a law like this would have been deemed extreme. But not so much anymore. In some ways, the city is just catching up to growing public antipathy toward tobacco use and changes in law that have already occurred in other areas.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the Sebastopol City Council, for example, have strengthened their no-smoking ordinances in recent years to include bans on puffing in multi-unit housing and in certain outdoor areas.
In supporting these measures, we don't downplay legitimate concerns many have about the ever-shrinking world of the smoker. There's no arguing that laws like these will make it more difficult for smokers to live in an apartment, condo or duplex. But we see the strengthening of no-smoking laws less as a means to making the lives of smokers more difficult than as an awakening to the real impacts of second-hand smoke and a growing public resolve to do something about it.
The U.S. surgeon general has found second-hand smoke to be as much of a health risk as smoking, particularly to older people, those with respiratory illnesses and children. The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.
The bottom line is this is as a health and safety issue, and the Petaluma City Council and other government agencies are correct in making the rights of non-smokers to live in safe environments a priority.
The one area that remains in a haze, however, concerns the impact on users of medicinal marijuana. Sebastopol's ban on smoking in multifamily units provided an exemption for those who smoke pot for medical reasons. San Francisco recently strengthened its no-smoking rules as well, but it made sure that they did not apply to the use of medical marijuana. The ordinance in Petaluma makes no such exemption.
There should be no distinction. Second-hand smoke is second-hand smoke. But readers can expect this to be an ongoing area of contention in an issue that, otherwise, is seeing disagreement starting to dissipate.