Smoking Bans

This California City Will Let the Neighbors Sue You for Vaping on Your Own Balcony

Concord's ban on smoking and vaping in private apartments allows residents to take civil action against their neighbors for violating the policy.


Come 2021 the residents of Concord, California, have something exciting to look forward to: not being allowed to vape on their own balconies.

On January 1, the small Bay Area city's ban on smoking in multi-unit properties takes effect. Once it does, anyone living on a property with two or more units—which would include apartment buildings, duplexes, mobile home parks, and residential care facilities—won't be allowed to smoke or vape inside their residence.

Stepping out onto the porch isn't an option either, as the new policy prohibits smoking in "exclusive-use unenclosed areas" like decks and balconies.

Because state law bans smoking cannabis wherever smoking tobacco is prohibited, the city's new policy means you can't toke up in your own home either. Californians are also barred from consuming cannabis in public, leaving the apartment-dwelling stoners of Concord with few options but to buy a house or move.

The justification for this new ban rests on the supposed danger that secondhand smoking (and vaping) poses to non-consenting neighbors who might be exposed to noxious cigarette smoke or fruity-smelling vape clouds.

The preamble to the city's smoking ban raises a number of other seemingly contradictory fears to justify its ban on vaping, including that the practice has "grown in popularity in recent years even as traditional tobacco use has declined" and that vaping "may have the capacity to 'renormalize' tobacco use."

Concord is actually a laggard when it comes to cracking down on victimless activities done in the comfort of one's own home. Contra Costa County, where Concord is located, has imposed a similar ban in unincorporated parts of the county, reports the East Bay Times. So have most cities in the county.

In California, some 63 local governments have banned smoking in private apartments. And, in early December, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted 10–1 to approve a ban on smoking tobacco in buildings with three or more units.

In a surprise twist, that ban failed a second, final vote of the full Board on December 8, with several supervisors citing the need to address potential unintended consequences of the ban, reports the San Francisco Examiner. The bill has since been kicked back to committee for further amendments.

San Francisco's ban would have come with $1,000 fines for violators. Concord's policy works a little differently: It instead requires landlords to include clauses in leases and rental agreements prohibiting smoking in units.

Apartment dwellers who violate that lease condition could be subject to civil lawsuits from their landlord or any of their neighbors. San Francisco explicitly barred tenants from being evicted if they violated the city's smoking ban. Concord's policy has no such provision.

Given the wildly exaggerated dangers of secondhand smoke, bans on smoking in private apartments are really more about legislating neighborliness by prohibiting people from subjecting the folks upstairs to annoying fumes and odors.

It's hardly unreasonable for people to want to live in a smoke-free building. The easy solution, however, would be to let property owners set their own lease conditions. People can then choose to live in whichever environment suits them best.

Instead, Concord has decided to bring about community harmony by letting everyone sue each other for using legal products in their own homes. There's a possibility this will lead to more conflict, not less.