Disclosures regarding smoking in apartments would be a good next step

San Francisco has been aggressive in recent few years about ensuring that its residents and people who work here are free from secondhand smoke. But The City could do more, particularly in the area of creating smoke-free housing.

Two years ago, Supervisor Eric Mar pushed for legislation that barred smoking in many outdoor common areas, such as bus stops, ATM lines and shared spaces outside of apartment buildings. And laws already exist, although they are barely enforced, barring smoking near entryways of buildings and in city parks. Overall, the rules governing outdoor areas of The City have earned it a B grade on the American Lung Association’s 2012 report card.

The City also scores well in the report card’s section about trying to reduce the sales of tobacco products — including the groundbreaking legislation that barred the sale of tobacco products in retail facilities that have pharmacies. Numerous other cities across the country followed suit. The City earned an A on this part of the Lung Association’s report card this year.

But one area in which San Francisco has lagged behind other cities is in banning smoking in multi-unit housing. In this category, The City received a D, and the only reason it did not flunk was the smoking ban in common areas that was part of Mar’s legislation.

The harmful effects of secondhand smoke are clear and well-documented by this point. But secondhand smoke does not stop at the doorway. So Mar has introduced legislation that would require apartments to be designated smoking or nonsmoking units; and those designations disclosed to tenants and potential tenants.

This legislation would be a start, but it actually lags behind what other Bay Area cities have done about smoking in multi-unit dwellings. The Peninsula city of Belmont banned smoking in apartment units in 2009, and San Rafael passed a similar ban this year.

The problem with multi-unit dwellings is that residents are often powerless to stop their exposure to secondhand smoke from neighbors. Doors, windows, ventilation shafts and other open elements in walls can cause smoke to drift between units. Although Mar’s proposal would be helpful, it would not prevent a nonsmoking unit from sharing a wall with a smoking unit.

As introduced, Mar’s legislation is a good start for tackling the issue in San Francisco. But supervisors should consider opportunities to strengthen the proposal’s language as it moves through the hearing process. San Francisco proved to be a leader when it came to decreasing tobacco  sales. Now, there is a chance for The City to catch up when it comes to smoke exposure in housing units.

Smokers should have the right to smoke in their homes, but only when it can be done without subjecting their neighbors to unwitting health risks. After all, the poison from secondhand smoke does not obey signage or stop at the edge of the carpet or hardwood floor.

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