Smoking tobacco, marijuana and even electronic cigarettes in apartments, condominiums and most public places would be banned in Santa Rosa under a sweeping expansion of the city’s anti-smoking laws supported by the City Council on Tuesday.
In its first public hearing on the issue, the council instructed planning staff to move forward with the proposed changes to city laws as a way to reduce the health impacts of secondhand smoke on residents.
Council members were strongly supportive of the changes, even going beyond some of the provisions proposed by staff, such as extending the ban to include people waiting in line at movies or a bank ATM.
Councilman Ernesto Olivares said he wanted to ensure the city not only changed the laws but clearly communicated to people what’s at stake.
“We should look for opportunities to do what we can as far as education to encourage people to stop smoking because it’s killing them,” Olivares said.
The city’s existing smoking laws are limited to enclosed public spaces, outdoor dining areas, city-owned parks and recreation facilities, the downtown transit mall, and within 20 feet any area where smoking is prohibited.
The laws would now be extended to any attached multi-family dwelling unit, including apartments, duplexes, townhouses and condominiums. In essence, smoking would be prohibited in any dwelling where two units share a wall, explained planner Erin Morris.
The ban would also be expanded to all city owned properties, as well, including office buildings, parking lots and garages and bus stops. An exemption that allowed smoking in parks if no one was in the area would also be removed under the plan.
The exception, which was created in 2006 after concerns were raised by golfers wanting to smoke cigars on the Bennett Valley Golf Course, is difficult to enforce and smoking in parks creates litter, Morris said.
Electronic cigarettes would be included in the new restrictions. While an argument could be made that current regulations already cover the devices, the new laws will explicitly include them in the ban, Morris said.
That troubled long-time smoker Keith Garcia, who said he switched to e-cigarettes in December to help him quit. He called the devices, which allow users to simulate smoking by inhaling vaporized liquid nicotine, a “healthier alternative” to smoking.
“Someday I hope to be free of them, but until then, that’s all I’ve got,” Garcia said.
The new rules will also increase the percentage of rooms in hotels and motels that must be smoke-free from 50 to 75 percent.
Pam Granger, the North Coast advocacy manager of the American Lung Association, applauded the council for moving forward on the new rules. She suggested a few changes, including broadening the rules to include any “service areas” such as movie theater lines or places where people have to queue up.
She also suggested smoking be flat-out be declared a nuisance so that even single-family residences where smoke can drift from one yard to another could be covered by the ban.
“It seems that if loud music is a nuisance, why not secondhand smoke?” Granger said.
The city is planning a community meeting in September to inform residents of the changes, as well as a second meeting before the Board of Community Services in October, before returning with a final ordinance for the county to consider in December.