Smoking Ban Hits Home. Truly.

smoke-free-graphic

January 27, 2009
Belmont Journal
Smoking Ban Hits Home. Truly.
By JESSE McKINLEY

BELMONT, Calif. — During her 50 years of smoking, Edith Frederickson says, she has lit up in restaurants and bars, airplanes and trains, and indoors and out, all as part of a two-pack-a-day habit that she regrets not a bit. But as of two weeks ago, Ms. Frederickson can no longer smoke in the one place she loves the most: her home.

Ms. Frederickson lives in an apartment in Belmont, Calif., a quiet Silicon Valley city that is now home to perhaps the nation’s strictest antismoking law, effectively outlawing lighting up in all apartment buildings.

“I’m absolutely outraged,” said Ms. Frederickson, 72, pulling on a Winston as she sat on a concrete slab outside her single-room apartment. “They’re telling you how to live and what to do, and they’re doing it right here in America.”

And that the ban should have originated in her very building — a sleepy government-subsidized retirement complex called Bonnie Brae Terrace — is even more galling. Indeed, according to city officials, a driving force behind the passage of the law was a group of retirees from the complex who lobbied the city to stop secondhand smoke from drifting into their apartments from the neighbors’ places.

“They took it upon themselves to do something about it,” said Valerie Harnish, the city’s information services manager. “And they did.”

Public health advocates are closely watching to see what happens with Belmont, seeing it as a new front in their national battle against tobacco, one that seeks to place limits on smoking in buildings where tenants share walls, ceilings and — by their logic — air. Not surprisingly, habitually health-conscious California has been ahead of the curve on the issue, with several other cities passing bans on smoking in most units in privately owned apartment buildings, but none has gone as far as Belmont, which prohibits smoking in any apartment that shares a floor or ceiling with another, including condominiums.

“I think Belmont broke through this invisible barrier in the sense that it addressed drifting smoke in housing as a public health issue,” said Serena Chen, the regional director of policy and tobacco programs for the American Lung Association of California. “They simply said that secondhand smoke is no less dangerous when it’s in your bedroom than in your workplace.”

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