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Nation's Strictest Smoking Ban Now in Effect in San Rafael, Calif.

San Rafael, Calif., has banned smoking in any housing unit that shares a wall with another residence. That applies to owners and renters alike.

What city officials are calling the nation’s strictest smoking ban is now in effect in a San Francisco suburb of 58,000.

The city council in San Rafael, Calif., unanimously passed a smoking ban last year that applies to any residence sharing a wall with another residence, whether owner-occupied or renter-occupied. After a year-long grace period and public-information campaign, the rule is now in effect.

“We based it on a county ordinance, but we modified it, and ended up making it the strictest,” Rebecca Woodbury, a policy analyst for the city, told ABC News.

The fact that the ordinance applies uniformly to multi and single-unit residences sets the San Rafael rule apart from similarly stringent smoking bans, Woodbury said. “The distinguishing feature is the shared wall.” 

Smoking bans in multi-unit dwellings aren’t unheard of.  Indeed, just 40 miles away the city of Belmont has a smoking ban passed in 2009 that was at one point considered arguably the strictest in the nation, but it didn’t extend to all dwellings that share a wall with another residence. 

Woodbury cited public health benefits as well as a UCLA study that found property owners could save $18 million a year in cleaning costs from apartments occupied by smokers. 

Housing and public health authorities in recent years have called for policies banning smoking in multi-unit rentals. The Surgeon General concluded in 2006 that “there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”   

It’s unclear exactly how many people in San Rafael will be affected, but multi-family housing (both owner-occupied and renter-occupied) makes up 44 percent of the market in the city, according to a city report on the ordinance before it was adopted. There are about 600 properties in the city with three or more units, which translates to 8,000 total multi-family rental units out of 23,636 total housing units.  

Chris covers health care for GOVERNING. An Ohio native with an interest in education, he set out for New Orleans with Teach For America after finishing a degree at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. He later covered government and politics at the Savannah Morning News and its South Carolina paper. He most recently covered North Carolina’s 2013 legislative session for the Associated Press.
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