Belmont lights up nation’s strictest smoking ban

Belmont’s landmark ordinance regulating secondhand smoke inside most apartments, considered the toughest in the United States, goes into effect Friday, though some smokers will have a temporary reprieve, according to city officials.

The Belmont City Council approved the ordinance, declaring secondhand smoke a public nuisance and extending the city’s ban on smoking to include multi-unit, multistory residences, in a 3-2 vote Oct. 9. Landlords will now be required to put no-smoking clauses into any new or renewed leases.

However, the ban for multi-unit apartment buildings will not take effect for an additional 14 months, until Jan. 9, 2009, so that one-year lease agreements will be unaffected. If tenants leave before that time, those units will become nonsmoking.

“No other city or jurisdiction in the country has required that all multilevel, multi-unit housing be nonsmoking,” said Serena Chen, policy director for the American Lung Association of East Bay. This provision “puts them over the top,” she said.

Though Belmont and some other California cities already restrict smoking in multi-unit common areas, Belmont is the first city to extend secondhand smoke regulation to the inside of individual apartment units. Smoking will now be permitted only in designated outdoor areas of multi-unit housing.

The city has also prohibited smoking in indoor and outdoor workplaces, parks, stadiums, sports fields, trails and outdoor shopping areas.

Smoking is still allowed in single-family homes and their yards, and units and yards in apartment buildings, condominiums and townhouses that do not share any common floors or ceilings with other units.

Smoking on city streets and sidewalks is also permitted, except in the location of city-sponsored events or within 20 feet of prohibited outdoor areas. Smoking in cars is also allowed.

The smoking prohibition does not apply to smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes, as long as it complies with state law, according to the language of the ordinance.

City officials have said that enforcement of the smoking ban will be complaint-driven, and that residents should first attempt to resolve any disputes on their own, before the city becomes involved.

First-time violators could be subject to a $100 fine.

Chen said she has also been advising city officials on community outreach plans for informational meetings on the ordinance, and on programs in the area to help smokers quit.

The issue was first brought to the attention of the Belmont City Council in July 2006, when residents at a senior housing complex complained of complications arising from secondhand smoke in their apartments.

— Bay City News

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