New law bans all smoking in apartments

These days, residents like Ray Goodrich breathe easier in their apartments. The 84-year-old has a pulmonary disease and is stricken with allergies.


He was so persistent in his efforts to stamp out second-hand smoke that he managed to get officials to enforce one of the country’s strictest anti-smoking laws in his city of Belmont, California.

Residents living in apartments like his are banned from smoking in any place that shares the same ceiling as another unit.

This means a ban in residential apartments or condominiums for all the city’s 25,000 residents. They are restricted to smoking in detached homes and yards, streets, some sidewalks and designated smoking areas outside.

The law took effect on January 9 after a 14-month grace period that allowed apartment owners time to comply with the new rules and brings with it the threat of $100 fines, though city officials say no penalties have been levied yet.

Indeed, city officials credit Goodrich as a member of a group of retirees who were the driving force behind the passage of the law.

The group lobbied the city to stop second-hand smoke from drifting into their apartments from the neighbors’ places.

Goodrich said that since he moved into the area in 1998, the smoke drifting into his apartment gave him a constant headache.

He said, “It’s kind of like an iron band around the head. I could be sitting and have the air filters going, which eliminated the visible smoke, but the smoke was still there.” He decided he had had enough after a fire broke out in a smoker’s room in the complex in 2003, a blaze that was fed by the tenant’s oxygen tank.

He began a letter-writing campaign.

“We need your help,” read one of Goodrich’s letters in July 2006. “A barking dog disturbs our sleep but will not kill us. Second-hand smoke is killing us.”

That letter caught the attention of several members of the Belmont City Council, who were moved when Goodrich followed up with repeated visits to council meetings.

He was often joined by other residents using walkers, wheelchairs and oxygen tanks, telling harrowing tales of life surrounded by second-hand smoke.

Of course, not all residents agree with the ban. Edith Frederickson, 72, who smokes two packs a day and lives in an apartment said: “I’m absolutely outraged. They’re telling you how to live and what to do, and they’re doing it right here in America.”

Public health advocates see the Belmont case as a new front in their national battle against tobacco.

Said Serena Chen, the regional director of policy and tobacco programs for the American Lung Association of California, “I think Belmont broke through this invisible barrier in the sense that it addressed drifting smoke in housing as a public health issue. They simply said that second-hand smoke is no less dangerous when it’s in your bedroom than in your workplace.