After nearly a year of discussion, the Santa Rosa City Council enacted a sweeping ban on smoking in attached homes Tuesday, carving out narrow exemptions for those who use medicinal marijuana and e-cigarettes.
The new ordinance, which aims to reduce the health impacts of secondhand smoke, prohibits smoking in the 25,000 apartments, duplexes and condominiums that about 62,000 residents call home.
Advocates of e-cigarettes, as they have in the past, urged the council not to include their increasingly popular nicotine-delivery devices into the definition of smoking, but to no avail.
“I support people’s right to smoke. I support people’s right to vape,” said Vice Mayor Chris Coursey. “But I also support people’s right not to inhale what’s coming out of your cigarette or device.”
The new rules also ban smoking in city recreational properties and parks and outdoor service areas like lines for ATMs, food vendors, movie theaters and bus stops.
If approved at a second reading next week, the ordinance will be phased in over 13 months. It will go into effect Aug. 7 for city parks, Oct. 6 for residents of multi-family complexes on month-to-month leases, and by Aug. 7, 2016, for everyone else.
The council previously had exempted medical marijuana users from the ban as long as they vaporized the drug, reasoning that medical marijuana is a legal right in the state and vaporizing it would likely have less impact on neighbors.
Much of Tuesday’s debate centered on whether to grant additional exemptions for users of e-cigarettes, who turned out in force in a last-ditch effort to convince the council not to assume vaping is dangerous just because it resembles smoking.
The council previously had created an exemption for smoke shops to allow customers to sample e-smoking devices and liquids for customers 18 or older.
“Just because someone injects insulin doesn’t mean they’re doing heroin, but it does look like it,” Keith Butler told the council.
He and others urged the council to view claims about the health risks of e-cigarettes with skepticism and to resist pressure to ban it from groups like the American Lung Association.
Erick Beall, legislative adviser for the Northern California Chapter of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, said some of the studies that the city relied on claiming health dangers to people in adjoining units have since been debunked and were “pretty much farcical.”
But others urged the council to include e-cigarettes in the smoking ban, arguing that the particulate matter from the vapor likely circulates between housing units or migrates through walls of attached units and businesses.
Daniel Shultz, owner of Not Of This World Icons bookstore on Mendocino Avenue, said he nearly had a vaping lounge move into the space next to his business last year. He said he worried the vapor would migrate through holes in the wall and affect his personal health (he said he suffers from asthma) and the “sensitive books and art” he sells.
“Imagine trying to explain to my customers why my children’s books smell like bubble gum and cherries,” Shultz said.
Mayor John Sawyer said he had been leaning toward allowing e-cigarette use inside multifamily units because he thought it unlikely the vapor would penetrate walls. But he said he changed his mind when he learned that some apartment complexes, like Bethlehem Towers for low-income seniors, have shared ventilation systems.