Home Invasion

California's new smoking bans


The increasingly stringent smoking bans of the last decade seem to be aimed at transforming what was once a widely accepted habit into a shameful vice practiced only in the privacy of one's home. But even that refuge is no longer available to smokers in Belmont, California, if they happen to live in an apartment or condominium.

Last fall the city council of Belmont, a town halfway between San Jose and San Francisco, adopted what appears to be the first U.S. ordinance that prohibits smoking in private residences. It applies to any housing unit that shares a floor or ceiling with another housing unit, on the theory that the slightest whiff of secondhand smoke poses an intolerable health hazard. Declaring that tobacco smoke is "extremely dangerous," regardless of dose, the ordinance also prohibits smoking in most public spaces outdoors.

Around the same time this ordinance received final approval, California passed a law that targets smoking in one of the few locations exempt from Belmont's ban: private automobiles. The Golden State joined the growing list of jurisdictions, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and Bangor, Maine, that prohibit smoking in vehicles carrying children. The Arkansas law covers vehicles carrying children who are under 6 and weigh less than 60 pounds—the same passengers who are required to ride in child safety seats. California's law, by contrast, applies to any cars with passengers under 18.