Santa Clara’s City Council adopted a new Smoking and Tobacco Regulations Ordinance on Feb. 5, which significantly restricts use of tobacco and e-cigarette products. The stated goal of the ordinance is to protect Santa Clarans and visitors to the City from the harmful effects of cigarette smoke, especially second-hand smoke, which is a leading cause of preventable early death.
The new law applies to tobacco cigarettes, cigars, pipes, electronic cigarettes, vaporizers as well as cannabis products. It’s no longer permissible to smoke or vape in open-air dining areas, public parks, ATMs, transit stops, public events or within 30 feet of a window or door to a building where smoking is prohibited.
Beginning Aug. 1, smoking will be prohibited in multi-unit residences, which is any residential property with two or more units including apartments, condos and townhomes. Single-family homes, detached accessory units and hotels/motels are exempt. Within multi-unit properties residents or visitors also won’t be able to smoke on patios, decks, porches or balconies, and not within 30 feet of a building door, window or vent. Smoking will still be allowed in single-family private residences that are not being used as daycare or healthcare facilities, tobacco shops, vehicles, outdoors at least 30 feet from non-authorized buildings and hotels as permitted.
The ordinance also requires landlords, property managers and homeowner’s associations to post “no-smoking” signs in places where it’s prohibited and include language about the new restrictions in leases. These parties are also expected to issue notices to violators of the ordinance in the residences.
Judging from public comments made at the February meeting, the most contentious aspect of the ordinance is the clause that states it’s unlawful for those under 21 years of age to possess or use tobacco or vaping products. Several members of the public who otherwise said they supported the smoking restrictions said that that couldn’t support criminalizing youth for something corporations are ultimately responsible for because of unethical marketing practices. Others said this aspect of the law could give police officers an excuse to stop and detain children.
Several City Council Members said that, although they don’t want to see 12 year olds being handcuffed for smoking, youth need some consequences in order to break the unhealthy habit, and many are too young to take risks such as cancer seriously. However, Vice Mayor Patricia Mahan echoed the public’s concern.
“I truly see how this could be a provision of the law that could be misused and abused by the police.” Mahan had said.
A spokesperson for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department commented that criminalizing the possession of tobacco has not been shown to reduce use and that it’s not a good practice.
Deliberations by the Council Members included discussion about how youth could receive consequences but remove the word “unlawful” from the ordinance so as to not criminalize Santa Clara’s children. However, City Attorney Brian Doyle advised that there was no way to get around using that language if the Police Department were going to be able to issue consequences.
Police Chief Michael Sellers offered that the Police Department’s policy wouldn’t be to arrest minors for use or possession but rather use a “juvenile contact report” that would require the youth and parents to attend an educational session about the dangers of tobacco and e-cigarette use. Those between the ages of 18 and 21 would receive a citation and have to pay a $100 fine.
“Our purpose with this is simply educational,” he had said. “Our primary focus is enforcing laws that apply to retail stores.”
Another point of concern was that including the 18-page ordinance in apartment leases would be onerous for landlords and it’s unlikely that tenants would even read it. The Council ultimately adopted the new ordinance with a provision to shorten the verbiage to be included in leases, and that an educational policy be outlined to apply to those under the age of 21.
In June, this publication printed a by a community member who stated concern that the ordinance does not make any exemptions for medical cannabis and thus requires patients to leave their homes if they live in a multi-family residence in order to take the medication. The letter called for an amendment to the ordinance to include exceptions for medical cannabis users.
Two June workshops were held to help to assist property owners of multi-unit residences with the added responsibilities that will go into effect in August. Another workshop is scheduled for July 10 at the Central Park Library.
You can read the full ordinance and learn more on the City’s website: http://santaclaraca.gov/home/showdocument?id=63096 or http://santaclaraca.gov/government/departments/city-manager/smokefree-santa-clara