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Richmond tightens smoking rules

Katherine Tam – West County Times

Richmond will ban smoking in apartments and condominiums in addition to public places, making the city the toughest place in the Bay Area to light up.

City officials will require multiunit housing to go smoke-free by Jan. 1, 2011. That includes individual apartment units and common areas such as lobbies and patios, where experts say secondhand smoke can seep through cracks, vents and wall sockets. Apartment owners can designate a smoking area, but it must be at least 25 feet away from where smoking is prohibited.

Fines for violating the new ban on smoking in multiunit housing start at $100.

The new ordinance, which the City Council approved this month, is on top of additional regulations created in May that bar smoking in public places such as parks, trails and where parades, farmers markets and other public events are held. Smoking is prohibited indoors where people congregate and work — regardless of whether it’s publicly or privately owned — including restaurants, bars and conference rooms.

That’s a big change from more than a decade ago when people hoping to keep secondhand smoke at bay created smoking and nonsmoking sections in restaurants and airplanes.

“We’re on the right side of history,” Councilman Tom Butt said. “This idea that somehow you could bifurcate buildings and make portions of it smoking, portions of it nonsmoking, it just doesn’t work.”

Richmond now has on the books the strictest batch of secondhand smoking laws in the region, said Serena Chen, a regional director at the American Lung Association in California. Other cities have some of the same laws, but not all of them.

Secondhand smoke is listed as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It was an F grade on an American Lung Association report card in January that spurred Richmond officials to toughen their laws. That report card graded cities on how well they discouraged smoking by developing laws that ban smoking outdoors and in multiunit housing and that regulate tobacco sales.

Most cities in the Bay Area got a D or F. No one got an A; five jurisdictions — Contra Costa County, Oakland, Berkeley, Novato and Belmont — got Bs.

Belmont made national headlines in 2007 when it became the first in the country to ban smoking in multiunit housing; that went into effect in January. Dublin followed suit in 2008 with a less-restrictive requirement that half the units in buildings with more than 16 rentals be smoke-free by 2010.

In Richmond, people can continue to smoke at home if it is a single-family house and on sidewalks and streets, but not within 25 feet of a door, window or vent that leads to a place where smoking is prohibited. Tobacco retailers are required to get a permit.

Smoke-free law supporters celebrated with hugs in the back of the City Council chamber this past week after officials passed its latest law. Smokers and apartment representatives, who were fewer in number at the meeting, were less enthused. Theresa Karr, who represents the California Apartment Association, asked the city to cushion the financial blow to apartment owners and tenants by requiring half, instead of all, the units in existing buildings be smoke-free. Evictions could be an unintended consequence, she warned.

“You are not only financially impacting owners and operators of rental properties, you’re probably going to financially impact tenants who maybe have no other bad habit other than they smoke,” Karr said.

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