Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Anti-Smoking Group Which Defends Calabasas Apartment Smoking Ordinance is Deceiving Itself

In a response to my letter to the editor published last week in The Acorn in which I criticized the Calabasas apartment smoking ordinance, the anti-smoking group “SAFE” published a letter which attempted to refute my argument against the ordinance by suggesting that the law will require 80% of apartment buildings to be smoke-free, and thus will provide protection for a large proportion of nonsmokers.

SAFE (Smokefree Air for Everyone) wrote: "In his letter to The Acorn Jan. 31, Michael Siegel asserted that the new smoking regulations recently passed in the city of Calabasas would make life more difficult for the residents in apartments. He could not be more wrong. The city of Calabasas has three apartment complexes, each one consisting of as many as 50 buildings, each building consisting of as many as 16 units. In 2006, the City Council passed an ordinance requiring no smoking in common areas of these apartment complexes, thus forcing tenants back into their apartments to smoke around their loved ones. ... The new ordinance will require 80 percent of the buildings to become non-smoking over time. Current residents who smoke will be permitted to continue smoking in their units until they move. ... Both non-smokers and folks who smoke will benefit from the Calabasas Housing Ordinance. Once again, Michael Siegel is wrong."

The Rest of the Story

There are three major problems with the argument put forward by SAFE.

1. The ordinance does not ban smoking in 80% of apartment buildings.

It is not true that the ordinance bans smoking in 80% of apartment buildings. First of all, the ordinance bans smoking in 80% of apartment units, not 80% of apartment buildings. It does require that the smoking units be placed in the minimum number of buildings, so in effect, it does restrict smoking in many of the buildings, but depending on the number of apartments and units, fewer than 80% of buildings may be smoke-free.

More importantly, the ordinance allows any and all residents to request that their units be designated as smoking units. Thus, in reality, no apartment buildings (ZERO) will be smoke-free. Almost certainly, there will be many residents in all of the apartment buildings who designate their units as smoking units. Therefore, the ordinance, in reality, virtually guarantees that there will not be any smoke-free apartment buildings.

2. While providing protection for many, the ordinance will make the problem much worse for some.

It is true that, over time, apartment buildings which are designated as non-smoking will have lower levels of tobacco smoke. However, the apartment buildings which are designated as smoking will invariably have much higher levels of tobacco smoke. Thus, the nonsmokers living in these buildings will be exposed to much higher levels of secondhand smoke. While there may not have been a problem when the smokers were relatively spread out, there almost certainly will be a problem when the smokers are all congregated in one area.

3. The ordinance takes away recourse for those nonsmokers who are affected by tobacco smoke from neighboring units.

By specifically regulating the allotment of smoking and nonsmoking units, the ordinance takes away any recourse that nonsmokers have to remediate the situation if they are affected by tobacco smoke from neighboring apartments (a problem which is likely to continue since all existing smokers will likely designate their units as smoking). The ordinance even states, specifically, that tobacco smoke entering a neighboring apartment is not a nuisance as long as the landlord is in compliance with the ordinance.

Thus, SAFE can deceive itself all it wants into believing that this ordinance is going to guarantee nonsmokers protection from secondhand smoke, but the reality is that it guarantees protection to nobody, while at the same time denying all nonsmokers the possibility of successfully seeking recourse if they are in fact affected by exposure to tobacco smoke in their homes.

The worst thing about the ordinance is that it sets a bad example for communities throughout the country which are going to consider this issue in the future. If cities in other areas follow this poor model of public health policy, it will result in a public health disaster. Apartment dwellers throughout the country will lose their ability to successfully seek recourse for health effects from secondhand smoke.

Perhaps most importantly, because it fails to guarantee any health protection for anyone, and because it achieves public health gains for some at the expense of others, I think it is an example of unwarranted government intrusion into the way that landlords operate their businesses. It is difficult to defend an intrusive policy such as this one under these conditions.

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