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San Rafael Puts Nation’s Strictest Anti-Smoking Law Into Effect

While more and more public places are limiting or banning smoking altogether, one California town has passed a strict new law that has some residents up in arms.

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By Bryan Le

12/02/13

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According to a new law passed by city council,some residents of the idyllic San Francisco suburb of San Rafael, CA are no longer allowed to smoke in their own homes. The law only applies, however, to people whose homes share a common wall with a neighbor. 

San Rafael citizens who live in apartments, townhouses, and condominiums can no longer light up inside their own walls after the city council made active a law that passed unanimously last year. The smoking ban is intended to eliminate secondhand smoke creeping into neighboring units through air ducts, windows and cracks in the floorboard. Rebecca Woodbury, an analyst with the San Rafael Manager’s office, helped to craft the bill and was duly pleased with her work. "We based it on a county ordinance," she said. "But we modified it, and ended up making it the strictest. I'm not aware of any ordinance that's stronger." The American Lung Association praised San Rafael’s effort and called for further action statewide. “It is imperative that California enact a multi-unit housing smoking ban to protect all California families from deadly secondhand smoke in the places they should feel safest – their own homes,” said the association’s CEO Jane Wener.

But the action was not as well received by housing advocates and some residents. “[The] smoking ban actually intends to punish people for what they do in their own homes,” says San Rafael resident Thomas Ruppenthal. “I really feel this is tyranny.”  Meanwhile, the California Apartment Association stated earlier in the year that the bill would have a negative impact on people with disabilities unable to leave their homes to light up. "I'm not justifying the practice, but somebody in a wheelchair who smokes in the late evening, for example, is going to have to go in the dark to a place off-site," said spokeswoman Debra Carlton.

Advocates for the law, however, have maintained their enthusiasm and hope that the measure will save some of the 50,000 American lives that are lost to secondhand smoke each year.

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