The Compton City Council has unanimously approved an aggressive smoking ban that its backers call the most restrictive in the state. By Jan. 1, 2013, it will call for persons living in multi-unit residences to refrain from smoking inside their own living quarters.
The ordinance allows the city to restrict smoking and tobacco use in public places as a means to “limit public exposure to secondhand smoke and promote a healthy environment for the residents in the city of Compton,” stated the Oct. 25 staff report.
Once in effect — by Nov. 24 — smoking will be banned from the following unenclosed areas within the city: Outdoor patio dining facilities, service areas, common areas of multi-unit residences, public parks and on streets and sidewalks during public events — festivals, concerts, parades, fairs, farmers markets and any other events open to the general public.
Enclosed places include multi-unit residential housing with more than three adjacent units. Here, t hose residences will have to immediately comply by designating common areas — hallways, paths, lobbies, courtyards, stairs, elevators, playgrounds, community rooms, gym facilities, swimming pools, laundry rooms, parking lots and garages, restrooms and eating areas — as smoke-free spaces. But by January 2013, all such residences will be mandated to prohibit smoking inside units. New apartment complexes will have to designate 100 percent of its units, including balconies, patios and decks, as non-smoking units.
All tenants will be required to sign lease terms including those restrictions, and violators will be liable to the landlord and any other occupants exposed to secondhand smoke. The landlord will have the right to terminate any lease due to the breach, and affected parties will be able to pursue damages in small claims court. Violators are subject to a $100 fine — and, at the discretion of the city attorney, offenders could be prosecuted for an infraction or misdemeanor.
A person, employer, owner or nonprofit entity who has control of an unenclosed area where smoking is prohibited will be required to post a visible and clear “No Smoking” or “Smokefree” sign at each point of entry to restricted areas. Service areas are considered kiosks, ATMs, ticket lines, bus stops, bus shelters, cab stands, mobile vendor lines or any place where a person waits and receives a service or makes a transaction.
Smoke is defined as “gases, particle or vapors released into the air as a result of combustion, electrical ignition or vaporization and the apparent purpose of such release is for human inhalation of the byproducts,” said the ordinance. “Smoke, for the purposes of this definition, does not include combustion of material that contains no tobacco or nicotine where the purpose of inhalation is solely for smell, such as smoke from incense. The term smoke includes, but is not limited to, tobacco smoke, electronic cigarette vapors and marijuana smoke.”
The law is an initiative of City Attorney Craig Cornwell — who has suffered from asthma for virtually his entire life, and wrestled with drafting the ordinance because it limits what adults can do in the privacy of their homes — who was swayed after reading data on the health problems caused by secondhand smoke.
“The most important thing we can do as leaders of this community is protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens,” Cornwell said. “…The current research and evidence regarding secondhand smoke [show] that it comes through vents, that it goes through walls, that it stays in dwellings regardless of whether windows are open.”
Tobacco use is known to cause cancer, cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, and remains the leading preventable cause of premature death in the United States, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.
Secondhand smoke can result in similar harmful effects. In that light, many cities and counties across California have adopted tough anti-smoking ordinances. Today, California law prohibits smoking in nearly all indoor places of employment, such as restaurants, shopping centers and other gathering places. It also bans smoking within 25 feet of playgrounds and tot lots.
Beyond health impacts, city officials said cigarette butts have become a nuisance, and cause blight because they are often found along city streets and in parks.
“Cigarette litter damages the environment and poses a hazard to children, pets and wildlife that may ingest cigarette butts … Secondhand smoke has been repeatedly identified as a health hazard and placed in the same category as toxic automotive and industrial air pollutants by the
California Air Resource Board,” said the staff report. “Not only do recreation areas suffer from cigarette trash, these areas are also subject to the risk of fire as a result of a cigarette butt that has not been fully extinguished.”
According to Cornwell, 15.9 percent of the city’s residents are smokers. In a non-scientific survey conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Cornwell noted, 76 percent of Compton residents living in apartments would prefer to live in a completely smoke-free building.
But City Treasurer Douglas Sanders, who smokes cigars, questioned the necessity of the ban on all smoking inside multi-unit residences. While he understands the prohibition on smoking in public or common areas, Sanders “doesn’t like the government telling me what I can and can’t do … in my domicile.”
City Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux, an ex-smoker, responded with a personal story about her daughter and grandchildren, who were living on the lower level of an apartment complex with “very heavy smokers” above their home. “When I went to … visit my daughter I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “Her place was a designated non-smoking area but you could [still] smell it.”
The councilwoman went on to say that the smoke would come through the ventilation system. “It was horrible. So, your own private domicile and what you do in it might affect the person either living on the side of you or beneath. … My grandchildren never had asthma until they got that apartment. They were exposed to that smoking.”
Mayor Eric Perrodin said people should have the right to smoke or not but “when it starts to affect somebody else, you have to take a second look.”