Photo by Idin Ebrahimi

Smoke-Free Fresno

The City of Fresno is leading the way in 2022 in reducing harmful secondhand smoke for its residents living in multifamily housing units.

Effective Jan. 1, the Smoke-Free Ordinance prohibits smoking (and vaping) in and around apartment complexes and other multifamily homes, essentially anywhere you share a wall with your neighbor. The ordinance also bans smoking (and vaping) in other common areas on the premises, too, such as near doorways or hallways, or in and around community outdoor recreation areas.

The Smoke-Free Ordinance passed on Oct. 14, 2021, with a supermajority of the Council supporting the measure. The decision is no longer up to your property manager. No smoking or vaping is the new law now.

There are a couple of exceptions to this strict citywide ban. For example, you can still smoke on your outside patio (if you’re lucky enough to have one). In legal terms, this is called your “exclusive-use outdoor area.” And, if your complex management has an “unenclosed enclosed” designated smoking area more than 20 feet away from everyone, you can smoke there too.

You can’t smoke in your apartment (or condo, duplex or any other kind of multiunit rental)—your bedroom, your kitchen, your restroom or your living room. You can’t smoke outside your front door or near your car. In fact, according to the ordinance, you can’t even smoke in your car if you park it on the premises.

But, if you’re a smoker and you live in a single-family housing unit, or your own house, there’s nothing to worry about—you can keep on smoking until your heart’s content anywhere on the premises—because this law affects only residents of multiunit rental properties.

That’s right, this law only impacts those who aren’t privileged enough to have their own place.

So, who was behind the Smoke-Free Ordinance? Council Members Tyler Maxwell and Nelson Esparza co-sponsored the ordinance. They are the youngest members on the Council and are serving their first term at City Hall. They are passionate about progress here in Fresno.

“People are going to smoke,” Esparza said. “The whole point of this ordinance is not to stop people from smoking. Smoking is an addictive behavior, and we are not physicians. We’re not going to stop people from smoking.”

But isn’t that the goal of the ordinance? Certainly, groups opposed to tobacco in Fresno would love to stop people from smoking. These tobacco prevention groups share the same tobacco-free mission.

“We’re dedicated to reducing tobacco use and protecting our residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and residue (known as thirdhand smoke) in Fresno County,” says Esparza.

In fact, it was groups such as the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC) Tobacco Education Division, composed of Fresno youth, who did the groundwork and worked with Maxwell and Esparza to design the ordinance.

Esparza explained that the spirit of the Smoke-Free Ordinance is to protect your neighbors from inhaling any of your harmful secondhand smoke or from suffering side effects from your thirdhand smoke buildup. In essence, the law is to protect your neighbor from you, the smoker.

In that sense, this new ordinance is awesome, really—protecting others, protecting our children from the dangerous negative externalities that come from smoking.

But there are some major issues with this law. Council Member Garry Bredefeld, the only nay voter on the ordinance, compares the ordinance to weaponized enforcement of personal choices in a private residence.

As noted before, there is no city law against smoking in or around a single-family housing unit; it’s only illegal if you happen to live in a multifamily one. For example, a family with smokers and children who live in a single-family housing unit would be in compliance.

Trying to separate this Smoke-Free Ordinance from the obvious economic ties that it has with living expenses is difficult. Will this new law simply incentivize renters to become homeowners? Will it result in a reduction of multifamily housing renters and an increase in single-family housing renters just to avoid the reach of the city?

As Esparza said, “People are going to smoke.”

Another issue with this ordinance is its misguided attack on vaping. Vaping and smoking are fundamentally different things. There is no secondhand smoke produced in vaping. That’s impossible because no smoke is ever produced; there is no combustion. And, of course, there is no thirdhand smoke buildup issue with vaping either.

There is absolutely no danger or real health concern for inhaling secondhand vapor from someone vaping nearby. None.

Vaping unsafe oils and solvents can hurt you. But vaping safe and reputable oil mixtures with chemicals such as CBD and THC in it can be therapeutic and even medicinal. Cannabinoids are known to have powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and bronchodilating effects that promote healing and wellness.

So why is it banned? And, why is simply “carrying any…product intended for inhalation” on the premises of a multifamily housing unit illegal?

Why does it feel like the zealous Fresno anti-smoking, anti-tobacco, anti-cannabis activists are working overtime here to get the city to conform to their non-inhaling lifestyle?

We all know that secondhand tobacco smoke is a conspicuous nuisance and proven health concern—especially with the extra obnoxious chemicals that the tobacco companies put inside their products. Smoking tobacco is pernicious with its incredible addictive properties loaded with vasoconstricting carcinogens.

The anti-smoking activists in Fresno have successfully employed a local ordinance that pushes the false ideas that all smoke is dangerous and that secondhand vapor is a threat to health. What this ordinance does is make it a lot harder and more inconvenient for law-abiding, hardworking residents living in multifamily housing to smoke or vape, to relax and self-medicate.

In a sense, this law feels like one specifically designed only for the disenfranchised, that is, multifamily housing tenants who are not able to afford their own single-family homes—another hardship imposed on the poor in our city.

“It’s reactive enforcement,” Esparza said. “Our code enforcement team is only responding to complaints—we’re not busting down doors looking for smokers.” Well, that’s a relief.

Still, there are consequences if you break the law: $250 for a first violation, $500 for a second and $1,000 for each violation thereafter. The ordinance also mentions the possibility of community service in lieu of paying the fines. And, of course, anyone charged with violating this law has the right to appeal.

So, question: if you’re a multifamily housing unit smoker and your unit doesn’t have an “exclusive-use outdoor area,” aka outside patio, or if your management doesn’t have a designated “unenclosed enclosed” smoking area, where can you smoke?

But, truly, isn’t smoking a liberty? Shouldn’t it be your free choice—especially at home? If you can’t relax and unwind or self-medicate with a smoke or a vape at home, then what kind of home is it really? Thankfully, single-family housing unit smokers don’t have these kinds of mundane problems.

Fresno is not the first municipality to ban smoking in multifamily housing units. There are at least 67 other California municipalities that have already done so.

Fresno’s new Smoke-Free Ordinance is not without issues, but it is a step in the right direction. Ideally, it will result in better health for residents without causing too much commotion during these perilous pandemic times.

  • I. smiley G. Calderon is a Gen X Southern California Chicano now living in the Central Valley. A lifelong educator who spent a career in academia, he believes in building individual and collective human capital through the accessible application of education. Contact him at smileygcalderon@gmail.com.

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