Smokers waiting to exhale

Lighting up outside county government buildings and in the common areas of private apartments and condos could earn smokers a fine, if supervisors approve a new ordinance Tuesday.

The new ordinance, being pushed by Supervisors Rose Jacobs Gibson and Jerry Hill, would expand the county’s ban on smoking to all county government buildings. At present, the ban applies only to so-called green buildings, namely the county crime lab and coroner’s office, and the juvenile hall still under construction.

“We thought it would be better if all of our buildings are consistent, otherwise we would have some of our employees living by one set of standards and some by another,” said Jacobs Gibson.

The ban would also require owners and mangers of apartments and condos in unincorporated San Mateo County to post signs prohibiting smoking in all common areas such as courtyards and stairwells, Hill said. While property owners would not be held accountable if a tenant violates the law, smokers themselves could be forced to pay as much as $100 for a first offense, Deputy County Counsel Brenda Carlson said. Second-time offenders could be fined $200, and a $500 ticket could be handed out for every offense after that within one year’s time, Carlson said.

Jacobs Gibson said the idea of expanding the ban to apartments and condos came from a group of young anti-smoking advocates who lobbied supervisors. Secondhand smoke causes as many as 300,000 U.S. children under age 18 to suffer from lower-respiratory infections, exacerbates asthma and increases the risk of middle-ear infections, according to officials.

“I think it’s a little overreactionary,” said Joyce Gamber, a legal secretary at the county Hall of Justice and smoker, of the proposed ordinance. Gamber admitted feeling frustrated with the ever-increasing restrictions on smokers, but said she would comply with the new law, if it were approved. “What are you going to do?” she said. “I don’t want to get a ticket.”

Cal Shiverdecker, a juror who stood smoking outside the county courthouse Wednesday, said he would have a problem abiding by the proposed ordinance.

“There is an expectation by those who use the common areas of apartments that they not be exposed to an unhealthy environment, and this ordinance will help prevent that,” Hill said.

Hill said that while people have a right to smoke, and he had no problem with it, that right ends at the tip of his and other nonsmokers’ noses.

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