Apartment smoking ban fails to pass


After the vote on May 12 regarding a proposal to ban indoor smoking in multi-family complexes, the Palo Alto City Council decided to not extend the current smoking ban to apartments, but to instead include electronic cigarettes among those in existing bans.

Because of multiple existing smoking restrictions for smokers, the council decided against extending the smoking ban to multi-family complexes.

Despite choosing to not involve cigarettes in the bans, the council decided to include electronic cigarettes in current smoking bans because of the increasing use of electronic cigarettes by teenagers.

During the council’s discussion, the council was surprised by a letter from the Santa Clara County Health epartment talking about the spreading use of electronic cigarettes among youth.

“Youth are now witnessing smoking behaviors in public spaces that have been smoke-free for most, if not all, of their lives,” the letter states. “Youth are also being exposed to e-cigarette advertising on television, something that has been prohibited for decades for traditional tobacco products.”

According to a study from the Center of Disease Control (CDC), the percent of high school students who tried e-cigarettes increased from 4.7 percent to 10 percent from 2011 to 2012.

“The likely harm to youth outweighs for me the potential benefit (e-cigarettes) might provide to others,” City Council Policy and Services Committee member Berman said.

Banning e-cigarettes was also considered last year when the multi-family complex smoking ban was originally proposed. The proposal was also turned down last year by the council due to a lack of research on the topic. But, after sending out an online survey to 85,000 tenants, landlords and multi-family units, Palo Alto’s city council decided to have a revote.

Based on the survey, 96 percent of those surveyed lived in multi-family units and 95 percent were non-smokers. Ninety percent of the overall respondents supported smoking restrictions and out of this 90 percent, 82 percent favored banning smoking in all units, 30 percents favored banning smoking in some units, 72 percent favored only banning smoking in indoor common areas and 68 percent favored only banning smoking in outdoor common areas. Also, the surveyed showed that 80 percent of the overall respondents were bothered by indoor smoking and 64 percent were “very much” bothered by it.

Overall, the results of the survey showed Palo Alto residents’ support of smoking restrictions in multi-family units — restrictions which Santa Clara, San Rafael, Belmont, Richmond and Walnut Creek have all already adopted.

According to the American Lung Association, a ban on smoking would have helped protect residents from inhaling secondhand smoking. Some Palo Alto respondents complained that restrictions would be undermining property rights. However, a majority of the respondents, as well as City Council member Gregory Scharff, were concerned about exposure to secondhand smoke or health conditions which may be worsened by smoke.

“Secondhand smoking is a huge danger,” Scharff said. “It causes cancer. It basically kills people and you have no choice if you live in an apartment. You shouldn’t have to be subject to that, frankly.”
As a whole, smoking restrictions in Palo Alto are continuously expanding with an aim to maintain a healthy environment for non-smokers and keep students away from secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke.