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October 10th, 2011:

Tenants’ rights up in smoke

10 Oct. 2011

If you’re a smoker, start packing. Off to Nevada you go.

Last month Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 322, which targets smokers in rental properties throughout the State for eviction.

Introduced in February by State Senator, Alex Padilla, (D-Pacoima), the bill allows landlords to prohibit smoking or use of any tobacco products, apparently including smokeless tobacco, in their buildings.

While I have never been a smoker and I was grateful for the ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and airplanes, it just seems that we have reached a point where smokers have being demonized in a fashion that was previously reserved for homosexuals and pedophiles.

After January 1, landlords will be able to prohibit smoking not only in common areas, but in individual apartments.  Smoking in your own home could result in a just cause eviction after the first of the year.

Constituted as California Civil Code Section 1947.5, the summary set forth by the State Assembly Judiciary Committee, states “the new law permits a residential landlord to prohibit smoking of a cigarette or any other tobacco product on the entirety of a rental property.

The prohibition would include individual dwelling units, all communal buildings, indoor and outdoor public spaces and any other public spaces and any other section of the property as specified by the landlord.”

What I found fascinating was that one of this bill’s leading supporters was Apartment Owners Association of California, a powerful landlord lobbying machine that does not have a history of concern for health issues and is clearly not looking out for the rights of tenants.

The fact that you are a current tenant does not protect your smoking rights.

The landlord can terminate your right to smoke in your unit upon sixty days written notice.

There is not appeal and you are not protected by the West Hollywood Rent Stabilization ordinance.

Apparently the City of West Hollywood was missing in action while this bill was being considered.

Although I recognize that the majority of our City Council members are rabid when it comes to the issue of smoking, thousands of West Hollywood renters who do smoke may soon find themselves exiled from our community.

As tenants in rent controlled buildings are aware, property owners are constantly on the lookout for ways of terminating the tenancies of long term tenants who have enjoyed the benefits of West Hollywood’s strict rent control.

What is egregious about this bill is that is designed to allow a landlord to selectively ban smoking in individual units.  While your landlord can ban smoking in your unit, if you move or are evicted, the same unit can be rented to a smoker, albeit at a substantially increased rent.

As written, the law provides that a landlord can ban smoking in the entire building or any portion of a building, “including any dwelling unit.” The bill does not require a landlord to ban smoking in all units, just the units the property owner selects.

A landlord can evict one smoking tenant but not another.  Thus tenants with low rents would be at a huge risk while new tenants who are paying market rents are not likely to be evicted.

This law incentivizes tenant harassment.  After giving notice, your apartment manager would simply testify that he saw you smoking in your unit and you are out.  SB 332 will wreak havoc in West Hollywood.

The City of West Hollywood has a professional lobbyist on retainer, who constantly alerts the City Council as to any bill that relates to landlord/tenant issues.

Apparently the City of West Hollywood did not take a position on this bill.  Our Assembly member, Mike Feuer chairs the Assembly Judiciary Committee.  According to the staffer I spoke with in his office, the City of West Hollywood never contacted his office regarding this bill.

Had the City of West Hollywood been involved in the legislative process, the bill could have been cleaned up so it not have resulted in a law that seems specifically crafted to assist landlords to selectively evict tenants.

At every election our incumbent Council members religiously recite the “tenants’ rights” catechism.  They sanctimoniously pledge that no one is working harder to protect West Hollywood’s tenants.

We know this is largely a crock, as the Heilman/Land clique have been the biggest cheerleaders and enablers of the demolition of rent controlled housing to make way for luxury condos.

Nonetheless, you would expect that State legislation that may impact thousands of local residents would have warranted some public debate at the City Council level.  By all evidence, it appears that the City simply has betrayed thousands of local residents.

I understand that smokers are not a protected class.  They certainly are not a popular minority group.  But at the risk of being politically incorrect, I would maintain that they are still human beings who need a place to live.

While this community celebrates alcohol and embraces the needs of meth addicts, virtually no sympathy is extended to those hooked on tobacco.

As a society, we demonize second hand smoke.  Indeed in the SB 332’s legislative findings drafted by State Senator Padilla, statistics were quoted blaming second hand smoke for 49,000 deaths of non-smokers in the United States annually, including 3,400 from lung cancer and 46,000 by heart disease.

Now I don’t want to sound like some Republican doubting the science behind global warming, but how do accurately come to a figure of 46,000 deaths by heart disease caused by second hand smoke?  Americans die of heart disease because of all the hormone laden red meat we eat, our junk food diets, the stress of our jobs and our disgraceful lack of exercise.

While I am not saying that second hand smoke is free of health hazards, 3,400 of lung cancer could simply be from breathing the air or by use of charcoal barbeques.

Heck, I live next to the MTA lot at San Vicente.  My neighbors and I must second hand smoke the equivalent of two packs a day.  I am in greater danger from riding my bike to work than I am from second hand smoke coming from my neighbor’s apartment.

As California has become increasing “progressive,” we have become increasing intolerant of the other guy’s faults.

I would ask all of the supporters of SB 332 if they would be willing to stop texting or using their hand held cell phones while driving.  Thousands die because of our unhealthy addiction to our tech toys but no one is serious about penalizing their obvious misuse.

SB 332 does provide a potential escape clause if the City of West Hollywood is willing to act prior to January 1.  The law does allow municipalities to “grandfather” the rights of current smoking tenants that would protect them from eviction under the new law.

At this point I would certainly encourage all of my smoking friends who rent in West Hollywood to kick the habit.

Alternatively, give up tobacco and switch to marijuana.  At least marijuana smoking in your castle is still a protected activity in West Hollywood.

Smoking Is a Drag at the Box Office: Scientific American

An analysis of top-grossing movies from the last decade shows that films with smoking make less money

BURNING MONEY?: Movie-makers are burning potential earnings when they have onscreen characters light up, new research suggests. Image: iStockphoto/THEPALMER

It could almost be enough to make  Cruella de Vil consider a nicotine patch: a new analysis has found that films with scenes that show smoking reliably make less money at the box office than their cigarette-free counterparts. The finding, says Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, adds to the case for giving any movie that depicts smoking to an automatic ‘R’ rating.

Together with Jonathan Polansky, who helped craft anti-smoking messaging in the past and now heads the California-based media campaign company Onbeyond, Glantz reviewed information on 1,232 movies released in the U.S. that were among the top 10 grossing films for at least one week between 2002 and 2010.

Movies with bigger budgets tended to earn more at the box-office, as they were more likely to feature big stars and massive promotional marketing. Moreover, PG-13 films had a better chance of making more money than R rated films—in part because the former are accessible to a wider age-range of moviegoers. But even after controlling for factors such as total budget and film rating, the researchers found that smoking was associated with 13 percent less money made in ticket sales.

Thirteen percent might not sound like a big difference, but it can translate in to many millions of dollars given the huge profits of blockbusters. Last year, for example, Inception and Iron Man 2 each made around $300 million in U.S. theaters alone.

“Putting smoking in the film isn’t leading to more popular films that make more money,” Glantz says. It’s leading to less popular films that make less money.” As to why films with smoking make fewer dollars, Glantz says he is uncertain, but he adds it might be part of a collection of edgy behaviors in a film that don’t appeal to audiences as much as movie studios expect.

The research, which was funded by the Legacy Foundation, a Washington, DC-based tobacco prevention nonprofit, was published online September 26in Tobacco Control.

Smoke screen

The controversy over cigarettes in films has raged for decades. It was not so long ago that tobacco companies paid directors to include scenes with smoking. For example, the company American Tobacco, which is now part of British American Tobacco, maker of brands such as Lucky Strike, gave a product placement firm at least $675,000 between 1984 and 1994 to get its products featured in films.

Perhaps best known for documenting that big tobacco knew for decades that nicotine was addictive and that smoking causedcancer, Glantz leads the Smoke Free Movies project, which aims advocates for the automatic ‘R’ rating for any film that shows characters puffing away on screen, to prevent ”anyone under the age of 17 from seeing the film in the theater without the accompaniment of a parent or adult guardian.

In September, the World Health Organization echoed the call for worldwide adult ratings for films depicting tobacco use. And other researchers have called for similar age restrictions, including Andrea Waylen of the University of Bristol in the UK. A study published by Waylen and her colleagues in the journal Thorax, released last month, crunched survey data from more than 5,000 adolescents and found that those 15-year-olds who had watched the most films featuring smoking were 73 percentmore likely to have tried a drag than their counterparts who had seen the fewest such films. “The results of our study indicate that it’s very important that children are protected from smoking in films,” she says. Waylen adds that the findings from Glantz’s study strengthen the case for adult ratings: “If there is no associated increase in [movie] income what possible excuse is there for smoking to be included?”

The rating of a film, which is ultimately set in the U.S. by the Motion Picture Association of America, is usually in mind before the first frame is shot, and written by studios into the contract of many movie directors, according to Glantz. So he hopes the new findings will convince studios to keep cigarettes out of the frame: “Hollywood is all about money. They talk about art, but it’s all about money.”

But not everyone is convinced that automatic ‘R’ ratings for smoking provide the answer. Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney, who describes himself as “‘enemy number one’ of the tobacco industry here in Australia”, says that using this type of adult classification is an inefficient way of keeping youngsters from trying cigarettes. “I think that it’s a very minor thing,” he says of movie ratings. He adds that making more films R-rated would unfairly put the onus on parents to sort through which films show violence and sex, and which ones show smoking.

Chapman also points out that the new report from Glantz and Polansky does not take sales of DVDs and downloads into account—and many teens are able to view R-rated films this way. He adds, “the fact is that kids are already seeing R-rated films with great ease. Even the ones whose parents don’t allow them to do that find a way.”

The Motion Picture Association of America says it takes a highly contextual approach to determining film ratings, rather than an ‘automatic’ approach based on a checklist.  “We believe that we should treat smoking as we treat all other rating elements,” says Howard Gantman, a spokesperson for the association.

However the campaign for automatic R-ratings for smoking turns out for future films, smoky classics such as Disney’s 1961 cartoon 101 Dalmatiansfeaturing Cruella De Vil puffing away at her cigarette holder—will likely remain a popular children’s movie for years to come. “In fact,” Glantz notes, “101 Dalmatians was one of the smokiest films made.”

WHO chief slams tobacco industry tactics

THE World Health Organization’s chief has urged governments to unite against “big tobacco”, accusing the industry of dirty tricks, bullying and immorality in its quest to keep people smoking.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan accused cashed-up tobacco firms of using lawsuits to try and subvert national laws and international conventions aimed at curbing cigarette sales.

“It is horrific to think that an industry known for its dirty tricks and dirty laundry could be allowed to trump what is clearly in the public’s best interests,” Chan said at a WHO meeting in the Philippine capital today.

Chan cited legal actions by the tobacco industry against anti-smoking measures in Australia and Uruguay, saying these were “scare tactics” intended to frighten other countries from following suit.

“It is hard for any country to bear the financial burden of this kind of litigation, but most especially so for small countries,” she said.

“Big tobacco can afford to hire the best lawyers and PR firms that money can buy. Big money can speak louder than any moral, ethical or public health argument and can trample even the most damning scientific evidence.”

Chan called on the countries at the forum of Western Pacific nations to fight back.

“I urge all these countries to stand firm together, do not bow to pressure… we must never allow the tobacco industry to get the upper hand,” she said.

The WHO has for many years called for bans on cigarette advertising and promotion, as well as restrictions on smoking in public places and higher taxes.

In Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government is aiming to introduce world-first legislation that would force all cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging from January 1 next year.

However Philip Morris has launched legal action, claiming Australia’s plans violate international trade obligations and warning it expects billions of dollars in compensation if plain packaging goes ahead.

Australian Department of Health Secretary Jane Halton told the WHO forum in Manila that her government was determined to push through with its plan, despite the “subversive tactics” of tobacco companies.

“We stand ready to repel the assault of big tobacco but we acknowledge it will be a big fight,” Halton told the WHO delegates.

WHO documents released at the forum said that 3000 people die each day from tobacco use in the Western Pacific region.

This covers an area with a population of 1.6 billion people.