The West Hollywood City Council, which in 1986 passed a law prohibiting smoking in public places and workplaces and in 2011 banned smoking in restaurants and public service areas, last night debated whether to extend that ban to apartment and condo buildings.
The debate, prompted by a recommendation from the city’s Rent Stabilization Commission in 2017, didn’t come to a firm conclusion, with the Council pushing the matter off for six more months. However, the proposal did attract a number of local residents who spoke in favor of such a ban, with one, suffering from asthma, pulling out and showing to the Council pieces of the equipment she uses to decontaminate the air she breathes while in her apartment.
A report to the City Council from the city’s Department of Public Works and the Human Services and Rent Stabilization Department, notes that West Hollywood has received poor grades on smoking by the American Lung Association. “While the city earned an Overall Tobacco Control grade of ‘C’ in the 2019 State of Tobacco Control Report, it earned an ‘F’ for its smoke-free housing policies,” the reports says. “This is due to the city’s lack of any policies prohibiting smoking in apartments, condominiums, or residential common areas.”
The report cites the health risks of second-hand smoke, noting that up to 60% of the air in one’s apartment can come from an adjoining apartment, and also states that repairing and maintaining an apartment where the tenants smokes can cost an apartment owner nearly $5,000.
The report also notes that Berkeley, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, each of which has rent stabilization programs and strong tenant protections, all ban smoking in multi-family buildings. In 2018 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development initiated a ban smoking on public housing.
The law that the City Council passed in 2011 not only bans smoking in restaurants, it also regulates smoking in certain public places. “Patrons are no longer allowed to smoke within five feet of outdoor dining areas and outdoor service areas such as ATM lines, information kiosks, banks, restaurants and other food service, tickets and admission to a theater or other venue, car washes, vehicle service establishments as well as valet parking pick-up areas,” says the report to the City Council. Also, a landlord currently can designate an apartment as smoke-free in its lease, but that cannot be applied to an existing tenant.
The questions put before the Council last night were, if it eventually decides to implement restrictions, were whether they should apply to both apartment buildings and condominium buildings, whether smoking should be banned in all common areas and apartments or only in common areas, whether property owners should be allowed to designate a smoking zone, and whether there should be a buffer zone outside the apartment building where smoking is banned.
One issue is how to implement and enforce such a ban if the City Council approves it. The city’s rent stabilization ordinance permits (but doesn’t require) a landlord of an existing building to designate an apartment as smoke-free after a tenant who smokes moves out. “Generally, new incoming tenants can be required to sign smoke-free policies for all areas of the building at the start of their tenancy. Existing tenants can voluntarily agree to sign smoke-free policies, but are not required to do so,” says the report to the Council. The city’s rent stabilization law says that smoking is not a nuisance and thus a renter cannot be evicted for smoking in an apartment, however the report notes that other cities with bans on smoking in apartments levy fines against renters who violate those bans.
Councilmember John Duran, who said he doesn’t smoke, spoke out against a complete ban on smoking in apartments, saying the issue before the Council illustrates a conflict between concerns about health and the privacy rights of local residents. He also said such a ban could be seen as an unfair regulation of private property. Duran was a strong opponent of the city’s 2011 ban on smoking in restaurants and certain public places.
Last night he questioned statements about the impact of second-hand smoke on children in West Hollywood, noting that families with children constitute only 5% of the city’s population. “We are a city of adults,” he said. “We have always been a city of adults.” Duran also cited the city’s reputation as a playground in questioning a ban. “For over 100 years this has been a city that has been known for the notoriety of its nightlife,” he said.
Duran called out the implications of such a ban on the consumption of cannabis, which now is legal in California with many restrictions, including a ban on use in public places. ”…. Weed has been a part of our culture for over 100 years… part of our culture and our value system,” he said, arguing that a ban on smoking cannabis in one’s apartment would lead people to lock themselves in their bathrooms to smoke without being harassed.
Duran also said that gay residents of West Hollywood, who likely didn’t know that a proposed ban was on the Council’s agenda, probably would oppose a ban, as would members of the Russian-speaking community.
The percentage of people who smoke and identify as LGBT is higher than that in the heterosexual community. Several years ago, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health launched a campaign called “Break Up with Tobacco” that aimed to reduce smoking among LGBT people. It reported that LGBT people smoke at a rate 50% higher than heterosexuals. The Public Health Department estimated that 20.6% of LGBT people in Los Angeles County smoked tobacco. Representatives of Equality California, an LGBT advocacy group, last night spoke in favor of increasing restrictions on smoking.
Councilmember John Heilman disagreed with Duran’s argument about personal liberty. “Personal liberty we all are for,” he said. “But not when it impinges on my ability to breathe.”
Heilman said he saw a contradiction between the Council’s recent vote on a proposal by Duran to provide testing strips to users of illegal drugs so that they could make sure they didn’t include fentanyl, a deadly ingredient, and Duran’s oppositions to controlling second-hand smoke.
Heilman argued that all new multi-residential buildings should be smoke-free and all common areas in existing buildings should be smoke free, whether apartment buildings or condominiums.
City Councilmember Lauren Meister argued for an incremental approach, with the city first banning smoking in public parks then garages and common areas. Meister said she isn’t willing yet to ban smoking in older buildings, as Beverly Hills and Santa Monica have done. She also said the city should consider funding a program to warn residents of the dangers of smoking and also a program to help residents stop smoking. And if a landlord wants to designate a new building as non-smoking, the landlord should be required to register the units as such with the city.