When Annette Kay is home, she forgets what fresh air smells like. Secondhand smoke from a neighbor’s townhouse regularly drifts into her Rancho Peñasquitos property, triggering sinus infections and repeat trips to the doctor.
“My landlord, not sympathetic at all,” said Kay, who’s on a fixed income and has decided to move out by late May.
Cases like Kay’s were the focus of a bill that would have banned Californians from smoking inside their homes. The measure died last week, but long-standing talks to regulate smoking at multi-family units in the city of San Diego are still alive.
In San Diego, anti-smoking activists have met with landlords for two years, trying to craft an ordinance that would make both sides happy.
A ban at the city level, considered too extreme, likely won’t be on the table. One option being discussed would require landlords to designate their buildings either smoking or smoke-free. A task force of property managers and community activists, which met Thursday, is slated to convene again in late May to continue discussions.
The debate centers on two main issues: Fear of over-regulation and fear of health risks.
Property managers worry that the creation of more rules would mean the burden of enforcement shifts to them. They also want nothing to do with regulating tenants’ personal lives.
“Owners and managers, we don’t want them to be the smoking police,” said Molly Kirkland, director of public affairs at the San Diego County Apartment Association, which opposed the state bill.
Anti-smoking advocates say a ban would keep dangerous secondhand smoke away from renters, especially those most vulnerable such as children, the elderly and the sick. Restrictions could also help smokers quit and live a healthier lifestyle, they add.
“It’s in their best interest to protect their property and assets, including the people who pay them rent,” said Manuel Andrade, a San Diego community organizer whose goal is to encourage landlords to go smoke-free.
Smoking rules now
Rules that address smoking in public areas such as restaurants and workplaces have been around for decades and are now considered the norm. No one would imagine lighting up at, say, an airport bar in the US.
Landlords are allowed by state law to adopt smoke-free rules voluntarily. The proposed California legislation would have required such enforcement at all homes with shared walls and vents. That measure, which met heavy opposition from property managers, was nixed in an Assembly committee last week on a 5-2 vote.
The number of bans or limits on smoking on private property, mainly multi-family housing, is limited in California but continues to grow.
More than 20 cities and counties have put in place some kind of non-smoking policy within the past six years, shows an analysis by the Center for Tobacco Policy and Organizing. The center is an arm of the American Lung Association.
Some are all-out bans while others limit smoking in certain parts of complexes. Those policies stem mainly from Northern California, but Southern California has seen some recent representation. Santa Monica officials in October approved a policy that restricts smoking at all housing with two or more units.
People should feel safest in their homes and should be protected (there) as well,” said Kimberly Amazeen, vice president of programs and advocacy at the American Lung Association in California.
For some renters, it’s a quality-of-life issue.
Kay, the Rancho Peñasquitos renter, is concerned the secondhand smoke from her neighbor’s home is causing her health to spiral. She’s tired of the wheezing and having to take regular courses of antibiotics to deal with her sinus infections.
She says neither her landlord nor her neighbors are sympathetic, so her only option is to move. “It’s caused a big hardship on me,” Kay said.
Health studies show secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer in adults. Nationwide, about 46,000 heart-disease deaths occur each year due to exposure, based one numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kids are also affected. Secondhand smoke can cause ear infections and asthma attacks.
With smoke, you can’t control where it goes’
By law, landlords in San Diego County have the option of going smoke free.
President John Adams Manor Apartments, an affordable housing complex in Oak Park, is among the complexes that has voluntarily chosen that route.
Its smoking ban goes into effect in January 2014.
The move was prompted by tenants’ complaints of secondhand smoking over the years.
Before the change was announced, management surveyed 90 percent of renters and discovered the vast majority of tenants, including smokers, wanted a smoke-free complex, said Vanessa Garcia, assistant manager of the 300-unit building.
“We’re not trying to tell people what they can and can’t do with their lives,” Garcia said. “But with smoke, you can’t control where it goes.”
Education is part of the complex’s transition to smoke-free status. Management will offer classes to help residents understand the change and a health fair has been planned for the summer.
Neil Fjellestad, who owns a local property-management company, sympathizes with residents who are affected by exposure to secondhand smoke. But he’s wary of smoking bans because they would require landlords to be in the middle of regulating rule breakers.
Instead of a full ban, Fjellestad prefers gradual limits to smoking at multi-family units that occur over a course of a few years. He said apartment owners and property managers would be more willing to voluntarily implement non-smoking policies if there are incentives involved.