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Editorial

Let 'em smoke, Santa Monica

A plan to bar new renters from smoking inside their apartments and condos goes too far. The City Council should vote no.

July 22, 2012
  • On Tuesday, the Santa Monica City Council is scheduled to vote on a plan to bar new renters from smoking inside their apartments and condos.
On Tuesday, the Santa Monica City Council is scheduled to vote on a plan to… (Los Angeles Times )

For years, Santa Monica has banned smoking on city beaches, in parks and near public buildings. Now it's considering expanding the prohibition. On Tuesday, the City Council is scheduled to vote on a plan to bar new renters from smoking inside their apartments and condos. The council should demonstrate restraint and vote no.

Under the proposed ordinance, both new and existing multi-unit buildings would be subject to the ban. Smokers already renting could continue to light up in their apartments, but the units would be covered by the ban as soon as they became vacant. Tenants who break the rules could be fined up to $500 if a landlord or a neighbor takes them to small claims court.

City officials worry about the effects of second-hand smoke, and with good reason. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the surgeon general and others have classified it as a known human carcinogen — meaning smoking doesn't harm just the smoker but also those nearby. That's why it makes sense to prohibit smoking in restaurants, malls and workplaces, where an individual choice creates a collective health problem. But it's an entirely different matter to regulate a person's legal behavior inside his own home. Smoking may be a nasty habit, but it's not criminal.

Santa Monica officials say they're trying to address a public health problem. The city has taken similar steps in the past, banning smoking in common areas of multi-unit buildings and anywhere within a 20-foot radius outside a window, door or patio. That's harsh but understandable because it's public space. But the new proposal goes too far.

Under current law, landlords have the right to rent exclusively to nonsmokers if they choose. Many do, and more are likely to as demand for smoke-free residences grows. Condominium owners and associations can also opt to designate entire buildings off-limits to smoking.

We understand that city officials want to discourage smoking, a vile and dangerous habit. But the benefits of the proposed ordinance are not sufficient to justify the intrusion into the lives and homes of residents.

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