Opinion: West Hollywood Needs a Smoke-Free Housing Ordinance

While West Hollywood is known as “The Creative City,” and the city has an annual budget of over $5,000,000 (yes that’s five million!) to provide social services to our residents, the protection of the health of our non-smoking residents from exposure to toxic secondhand smoke in their own homes is something West Hollywood is woefully behind the times with.

As a member (and currently the chair) of the city’s Rent Stabilization Commission, I brought an item before the commission to discuss the potential for a smoke-free housing ordinance. (While our commission can propose a revision to the rent stabilization ordinance or a new one, we are not empowered by the city to actually enact that. Only the City Council has that authority).

The commissioners overwhelmingly approved it, and Mayor John D’Amico approved it as an item to come before the City Council for a discussion. The Code Compliance Division brought this before the City Council last summer, discussing how other rent-control cities have enacted smoke-free housing ordinances. The City Council at that time directed staff to bring back a proposed ordinance for them to discuss—which is happening at the next council meeting, this coming Monday, March 16, as agenda item 3A.

Secondhand smoke contains chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic, ammonia and cyanide.

Exposure to secondhand smoke causes heart attacks, coronary heart disease, leukemia, strokes, ear disease, larynx cancer, bronchial cancer, asthma, bronchitis, impaired breathing, lung cancer, lung disease, pneumonia, and reproductive health issues. Particularly at risk are our senior residents, children, and those with compromised immune systems and preexisting lung/breathing issues.

The federal Environmental Protection Administration states that secondhand smoke is a Group A carcinogen.  The California Air Resources Board identified secondhand smoke as a toxic air contaminant with no safe level of exposure.  The federal Centers for Disease Control has stated that “no level of secondhand smoke exposure is safe….it occurs when non-smokers breathe in smoke exhaled by smokers … Eliminating smoking from indoor spaces fully protects non-smokers from exposure to secondhand smoke”.

There is no way to stop or even mitigate secondhand smoke from drifting to adjoining apartments—air purifiers, extra filtration, fans and caulking are of no use.  Secondhand smoke travels from unit to unit through ventilation, electrical outlets, pipes, vents, baseboards, light fixtures, through microscopic cracks in walls, floors and ceilings and from balconies and patios.

Over 20 California municipalities, including the rent-control cities of Berkeley, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills (as well as all federal Housing and Urban Development properties nationwide) have long ago enacted smoke-free housing ordinances, and in those cities there have been no evictions for violations of those smoking ordinances. Simply put, those existing tenants who smoke and wish to remain in their rent-stabilized apartments do so, but they alter their smoking behavior so that they do not place their neighbors’ health at risk. Again, let me clearly state, that within rent-regulated cities that have enacted smoke-free housing ordinances, no one has had to be evicted for violation of a smoke-free housing ordinance.

This has never been about asking or telling anyone they can or cannot smoke. While there is no constitutional right to smoke, it is a legal activity. What this is about is having those who smoke do so in a manner that does not expose their neighbors to toxic secondhand smoke.

Please attend the City Council meeting on Monday March 16 (Council meetings start at 6:30 p.m.) to lend your support of agenda item 3A — we’d love to have you join us!  If you’re not able to attend but still want to have the City Council hear your comments, you can e-mail the entire Council at ccouncil@weho.org or Yvonne Quarker, the City Clerk, at yquarker@weho.org, and she’ll include your comments in the council members’ meeting packets. Feel free to reach out to your friends and neighbors as well. You can find us on Facebook—just look for the Smoke Free West Hollywood page.


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Rob Bergstein
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Rob Bergstein

While this item is on tonight’s council agenda, 3A, with the coronavirus pandemic, I believe that this item as well as any other non urgent items will get pulled from the agenda and re-scheduled for a later date. You can watch on wehotv or if you live in West Hollywood, on the city’s channel on Spectrum
Everyone please stay safe. I’m cautious and taking all steps that I can, but am not going into panic mode. We can all be here for each other, if not in person, than on the phone and online.

Arthur
Guest
Arthur

Although this might fall to a different commission, the second hand smoking issue on the outside patios at the bars in weho have reached a critical, disgusting, and unhealthy level as well. Something must be done.

Cathy B
Guest
Cathy B

Although I live in the UK I welcome news about how the USA deals with secondhand smoke and indeed smokers much more than UK. The article Rob is very informative. One comment says an extra condition caused by SHS is arthritis, this I was unaware of. I have suffered from blood clots in both lungs, not caused by DVTs in the leg, bronchitis, asthma and worsening osteoarthritis since smokers moved next door, this is now nearly 7 years. It is a terraced house and the present and previous tenants have always ensured that if I venture into the garden, they… Read more »

Greg
Guest
Greg

If you have a drink, the alcohol doesn’t go into my blood stream.
But the second someone lights a cigarette, everyone nearby is effected.
It’s time we stood up for our health. I’m stuck next to smokers in lines for clubs or at the ATM or just affected walking down the street. Why do they get to effect my health and destroy the air?

Rob Bergstein
Guest
Rob Bergstein

Amen! And if you’re able to e mail your comments to City Council, ccouncil@weho.org, or show up for the Council meeting on Monday (although with the ongoing crisis, everything is u in the air, that’d be great!

Rob S
Guest
Rob S

The bottom line is wether or not residents smoke cigarettes inside or outside there are going to be complaints. Smokers are a extremely marginalized group. First it was the increased price and tax on the cigarettes themselves making them only available for the wealthy. A resident in my building was so severely harassed by a mentally ill resident of West Hollywood on Kings rd that the police had to get involved to ensure the residents safety, even though the resident complied with all laws (20 ft away from any entrance) but it ended up being a nightmare due to the… Read more »

Untie Landlord's Hands
Guest

Thank you for considering this important issue. We’d like to designate our entire community as smoke free, but when a new tenant moves in and is made aware of a smoke free policy, it’s difficult for them to live comfortably next to a smoker who has been grandfathered in simply because a landlord does not have the option to implement the policy uniformly, or fairly, across all units. It is confusing for new tenants and looks like the landlord isn’t enforcing their own no smoking policy when the new tenant is told they can’t smoke, but then the old tenant… Read more »

Rob Bergstein
Guest
Rob Bergstein

The proposed ordinance coming before Council on Monday (although with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, everything is up in the air) is better than nothing, but quite weak in that it grandfathers in existing smokers rather than giving a timeline for all buildings to go smoke free. If you can come to the Council meeting or e-mail your thoughts to them: ccouncil@weho.org.

James Francis
Guest
James Francis

I think there was a study from a non partisan clean air study that gave West Hollywood a D rating when it came to smoking. It seems everywhere you go, there are smokers. As much as WeHo might want to tout its livability, those days are gone for us on low to moderate incomes. Just to put things in perspective, I complained about smoke and worse welding as a hobby from a neighbor where it is called illegal burns like burning rubber, wood, metal, those in his one story house are carcinogens highly cancerous! The city finally intervened when I… Read more »

Rob Bergstein
Guest
Rob Bergstein

Can you e mail your comments to council–ccouncil@weho.org? The more the council hears from residents, the stronger our case will be!

James Francis
Guest
James Francis

I will do my best in submitting this Rob. This is very important that we support this ordinance and have the council put it into law with punitive and fines attached to offenders! It is very important that this become a city law on the ban of cigarette and tobacco smoke! I am willing to have the council read my statement publicly, if the person at city hall receives my statement.

Esther Schiller
Guest

One more condition caused by exposure to secondhand smoke is arthritis. I only recently learned this. The smoke causes inflammation which in turn can result in arthritis. I was exposed to secondhand smoke for several years and now in my older years I am suffering pain in almost every joint including knees, neck, fingers, lower back……. I operate a “Help Line” to provide info to residents of apartments and condos who are being forced to breathe a neighbor’s tobacco or marijuana smoke. Just as I counsel callers to avoid moving to the City of Santa Monica which has a seriously… Read more »

Observer
Guest
Observer

What about all the toxic fumes spewing out of vehicles. I think they are more a danger to the health of the general population. Therefore, I suggest that we ban all vehicles for the sake of the people and the planet.

Tim
Guest
Tim

Great! Cars produce about 10,000 times more harmful chemicals than cigarettes. Should that be addressed as well?

Rob Bergstein
Guest
Rob Bergstein

unless someone is operating a car inside their home…it’s not apples to apples. And today’s cars emit far fewer toxins that cigarettes do.

WeHo Resident
Guest
WeHo Resident

From what I’ve researched the level of PM2.5 pollution on most days in WeHo is multiple times higher than what has been shown to occur in apartment units next to units with smokers. That would be even if you’re out in the middle of a smoking free WeHo park. Of course that’s not 10,000 times. Trying to give realistic assessment. Obviously if you’re standing directly downwind of someone smoking that’s a different issue.

Cool Guy 420
Guest
Cool Guy 420

People should be able to smoke cigarettes in their own homes

Rob Bergstein
Guest
Rob Bergstein

And I would agree with you if the only person affected by the toxic smoke from cigarettes would be the smoker, but that’s just not how it is. Tobacco is the only legal, potentially lethal product on the market today that affects everyone else around the person using it….and that’s just not right. If there were a way to contain the smoke in the smoker’s home only…but there is no such way. So, smoke all you want to, but you don’t get the right to expose your neighbors to its toxicity.

Untie Landlord's Hands
Guest

You do if the RSO and City Council vote to grandfather in your neighbor! Reading the staff report, there are some huge gaping holes in this proposed ordinance, Chair Bergstein. It only includes “enclosed” common areas but not unenclosed areas. It grandfathers in existing tenants that can continue to smoke for the next 50 – 70 years until they decide to move out. How many market rate non-smokers have to move out because the Councils are too timid to be able to make all units non-smoking? If you’re going to propose something under the guise that “you don’t get the… Read more »

Rob Bergstein
Guest
Rob Bergstein

Untie, you are absolutely correct. The proposed ordinance doesn’t go nearly far enough in that it grandfathers in existing smokers and the enforcement for violations is to be taken to court, city staff won’t assist. It’s not a well written ordinance and we are hoping that council makes it much stronger before they vote on it. If you are able to attend the council meeting on Monday (although with the pandemic, all public meetings are up in the air) or e mail council at ccouncil@weho.org, that’d be great.. The more they hear from us, the stronger our chances

Untie Landlord's Hands
Guest

I appreciate your response, understanding of the ordinance’s lacking, and all actions you’ve taken thus far, Chair Bergstein.

A Victim In A Cage
Guest
A Victim In A Cage

Right on Rob, you are exactly right! I see the smokers side too because I think they honestly believe their neighbors are being overly sensitive and nitpicky because the smoker themselves have become desensitized to their own smoke… they can’t smell it! In the old days we didn’t have the science that proved how bad second hand smoke was for people but now we do and people who work hard on staying healthy just can’t turn away from it anymore especially being trapped inside their own apartment where they can’t escape! I don’t understand why Weho made the outdoor dining… Read more »

WeHo Resident
Guest
WeHo Resident

Do you know of studies showing actual health consequences from second hand smoke infiltrating from one apartment to the next? The research showing health effects from secondhand smoke I have read have all been in the context of being in the same physically confined spaces as smokers. On a daily basis we have exposure to things with known health effects in high enough concentrations. Pollution from cars, fumes from paints and cleaning products, etc. It’s important to understand relative risks when setting public policy. Damage from secondhand smoke, just like tons of other things are almost always dose dependent. Many… Read more »

Cathy B
Guest
Cathy B

Then the next tenant will have to suffer from third hand smoke, which is deadly for anyone with breathing problems, it is very difficult to get out of carpets, furnishings and paintwork.

Eric Jon schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon schmidt

The State should require that a person buy a permit to smoke and buy cigarettes and cigars. The money generated would be used for the treatment of lung and heart issues for those uninsured, used to provide methods and treatment for those who want to quit smoking such as nicotine gum and patches, and used for a smoke-𝐅𝐫𝐞𝐞 California advertising campaign. I believe it would pass on the ballot because it’s a matter of public health for everyone. Non-smokers should not have to be subjected to smoke from others. A reasonable fee for the smoke permit would $250 annually.

Alison
Guest
Alison

Do you think drinkers should buy a permit also? They get in cars and kill and maim people!

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon Schmidt

No, but I believe that the last bar who served the drink to the drunk driver should be liable.

WeHo Resident
Guest
WeHo Resident

Unless we need to give them a written exam and eye test to make sure they can handle a cigarette, it seems that is totally redundant to having the existing tobacco sales tax. Just raise the tax. No need to add another layer that would have its own administration costs… other than if your intent is simply a layer of hassle that would hopefully convince more to quit. If it’s that then you should simply state so rather than making argument it somehow could add more programs that couldn’t easily be funded by a simple sales tax on tobacco.

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon Schmidt

It would serve both the victims of second hand smoke and an incentive to get people to quit smoking.

WeHo Resident
Guest
WeHo Resident

It is probably better to offer those addicted to any substances cessation support services rather than requiring them to buy a permit. What is a person currently addicted to cigarettes supposed to do under your plan when they are living paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford $250. Your permit idea only works if it is enforced, and that means means Sheriffs stopping people they see smoking and asking for their papers? Then they issue fines to people, with that disproportionately hitting poorer people, and then penalties for not paying the fines. Sales tax on tobacco can be set at any… Read more »