A smoking ban — for homes?

A California city considers a misguided proposal that would do just that, and be a serious encroachment on privacy

Topics: Health, Tobacco industry,

A smoking ban -- for homes? (Credit: iStockphoto/2StockMedia)

It’s an accepted – and often much appreciated – fact of modern American life that there aren’t too many places you can smoke. It’s been a long time since anybody was allowed to light up on an airplane, in an office, in most bars and restaurants. In New York City, you’re not even legally permitted to smoke in many outdoor public places. And in Orange County, you can’t light up on your own patio or balcony. Well, at least you can still come smoke in your own home, right? I said, right?

Not so fast, Don Draper.

On Wednesday, the city of Elk Grove, Calif., began discussions to ban smoking from rental apartments. Unsurprisingly, the California Apartment Association and the Rental Housing Association of Sacramento Valley are opposed to the smoker-repelling measure. The Sacramento County Tobacco Control Coalition, meanwhile, is urging the city to become the first in the county to enforce an apartment-smoking ban. Several complexes in Elk Grove already have privately issued residential smoking bans — bans that are echoed in apartment complexes and co-ops around the country.

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But the possibility of making a smoking ban a city issue is a thorny issue, one that permeates the public and private sectors like a freshly lit Newport on wool fibers. Cigarette smoke unquestionably and unavoidably stinks. It’s also a bona fide health hazard, especially for the very young, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. And it’s not like your neighbor’s smoke stays neatly in your neighbor’s two-bedroom. As local resident Mimi Dixon, who lives in a senior facility, told the city council recently, secondhand smoke “comes in through the walls, the plumbing, through the lighting. It comes through everywhere.”

As someone who’d prefer her own home not smell like an ’80s frat party, I’m not thrilled when the heady aroma of tobacco (or other smokable substances) wafts into my apartment. And if my building were to suddenly issue an all-points ban on smoking, it would bother me only to the extent that our awesome, eternally puffing super would probably have to move. But I was more aromatically offended when we had a neighbor who had cats and a penchant for never cleaning the litter box. True, secondhand cat box stink isn’t a health issue, but how serious a threat is a smoker when you’re not under the same roof?

Left to the needs and desires of individual landlords, co-operative shareholders and tenants, smoking bans can potentially raise the value of a property  and increase the quality of life for everybody. But when it becomes a city mandate about what you can do with a legal substance in your own home, it’s an encroachment on the privacy of everybody, not just smokers. And that shouldn’t make anybody feel like breathing easier.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

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