City Council considers law prohibiting smoking in all Berkeley apartments

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Leya Andrews/File

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At its Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council discussed a proposed smoke-free ordinance that would ban smoking in the city’s apartments and communal houses.

The ordinance, drafted with input from the city’s Rent Stabilization Board and Community Health Commission, would change the Berkeley Municipal Code by banning smoking tobacco in leased multiunit housing, which includes apartments, fraternities and senior living facilities. The amendment is meant to protect Berkeley residents from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in their homes.

“Over the past decade, there has been a movement that finds that smoking in dense areas — such as apartment buildings or areas with lots of apartments — could be considered to increase incidents of cancer and asthma rates,” said Berkeley Rent Board commissioner Igor Tregub.

Under the smoke-free ordinance, the city would require new leases to include a nonsmoking clause, and residents of a multiunit building affected by secondhand smoke would be allowed to sue neighbors who exposed them to the smoke. According to the meeting’s agenda, residents who expose fellow tenants to secondhand smoke can face a fine of up to $250 for each occurrence.

Joel Moskowitz, director for the UC Berkeley Center for Family and Community Health, a research center that aims to reduce health inequalities, said that the smoke-free ordinance can be a positive change for the city.

“It is definitely a plus from a public health standpoint,” he said. “There are many people who are sensitive, and they should not be exposed to smoke. It could exacerbate asthma or breathing problems.”

Moskowitz said the ordinance can also be positive because research on thirdhand smoke — smoke that is deposited in building walls and carpetings — found that thirdhand smoke can last longer than secondhand smoke and can be just as damaging.

However, Councilmember Susan Wengraf said the ordinance did not seem strong enough to her and was disappointed that both the Housing and Community Services and Health Services departments, which drafted the ordinance, did not discuss it with more property owners and individuals living in group housing, such as Greek housing or co-operatives.

“I don’t like setting up neighbor against neighbor,” she said. “I can’t imagine setting up sorority sister against sorority sister. I think (the staff) needs to find a better solution.”

Raul Ibanez, a former smoker and a UC Berkeley student who teaches a DeCal course on tobacco awareness, added that the city will have to ensure the smoke-free ordinance is comprehensive and provides accommodations to residents who smoke.

“It is a great idea in terms of taking a the majority of public health into account,” he said. “The negatives would be, where are these people going to go to smoke and how far away would they have to go? What types of enforcement would you bring in? All of that stuff is very tricky.”

City staff members are due to return with more changes to the smoke-free ordinance, including mediation in the case of tenant conflicts, added no-smoking signage and additional provisions that encourage voluntary nonsmoking for the city’s current rent-controlled housing.

Alyssa Neumann covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @AlyNeumann.

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