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CES In The News
Los Angeles Daily News
Saturday March 1, 2008
Legislator Wants to Snuff Out Smoking in Rental Units
By Harrison Sheppard, Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO - Advancing California's continuing war against smoking in public and private, a San Fernando Valley lawmaker is pushing a statewide measure that could prohibit renters from smoking inside their own homes.

The bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, would allow - although not require - landlords to ban smoking inside rental units as a means of protecting the health of other tenants who may live nearby.

"The goal here is to try to provide smoke-free housing for folks who live in multiunit buildings in California," Padilla said.

"More than 30 percent of California residential units are multifamily dwellings. So if you're a family hoping to live in a smoke-free environment, it's currently next to impossible to find a smoke-free unit."

The bill comes amid continuing efforts in recent years to restrict areas where smokers can indulge. Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill prohibiting smoking in cars when children are present. Another bill now pending by the same author, Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Carson, would ban smoking in state parks and beaches.

And in January, the city of Calabasas passed a law banning smoking in up to 80 percent of the city's rental housing units by 2012.

Unlike the Calabasas law, however, Padilla's proposal is voluntary at the option of landlords. And he and some landlord groups said they already believe that under current state law, landlords may have the right to prohibit smoking.

That law, however, is perceived as vague and untested, and many landlords are worried about being sued if they decline to rent to smokers.

Padilla said he felt it was necessary to make it absolutely clear in state code that landlords have that right.

But groups representing smokers and tenants are incensed by the measure - Senate Bill 1598 - calling it another infringement on the rights of both groups.

Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival
, which represents tenants' rights, fears that the bill could be used as another excuse for evictions.

"I think this is a very shortsighted approach to a serious problem," Gross said. "By doing it this way, you're giving landlords another tool to evict tenants. It criminalizes the smoker.

"We need to figure out how to get them to stop smoking, not remove the roof over their heads."

He wondered, for example, whether a landlord could evict a tenant if a guest in the home - or even a temporary visitor such as a repairman or pizza delivery person - lights up in the unit.

Robert Best, a California representative of advocacy group The Smoker's Club, said because current law already allows landlords the option of prohibiting smoking, the proposed measure seems like a publicity stunt.

"The law basically is ridiculous," Best said. "Why are we creating a law for something people can already do? We're just trying to make a showboat of it, and show we're fighting smoking because smoking is the new evil."

"It's the same as passing a law saying, you can't throw a cigarette on the ground. Well, we already have the littering law."

But Esther Schiller, executive director of Smokefree Air For Everyone, a nonprofit group that maintains a public database of smoke-free apartment buildings, said it is clear there is still uncertainty about current law.

"Many landlords don't know it, or they may be afraid to do it," Schiller said. "Many landlords assume that people who smoke are protected by fair-housing laws, which is not the case.

"People who smoke are a consumer group, like beer drinkers."

She said her organization gets many calls for help from families who are trying to avoid smoke-filled environments, particularly those who have children with asthma.

In most cases, it is not enough for them to avoid smoking in their own homes. When neighbors smoke, it often seeps into adjacent units, she said.

Philip Morris USA has not taken a position on the two bills, and in recent years has limited lobbying on specific smoking restrictions at the state level.

However, company spokesman Bill Phelps said, in general, the company agrees that some restrictions on smoking in public places are appropriate.

"However, we think complete bans go too far," Phelps said. "We think smoking should be permitted outdoors, except in very particular circumstances such as an outdoor area primarily designed for children."

But the company also respects the rights of property owners, he said.

"We think the owner of a residence should determine the smoking policy for that residence," he said.

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