The era when you could light up a Lucky Strike in the comfort of your own home is coming to an end for many San Franciscans. On Tuesday the city’s Board of Supervisors approved a ordinance that bars residents from smoking or vaping tobacco — but not marijuana, which was dropped from the proposal at the last minute — anywhere inside residential buildings with three or more units. But will the city actually fine someone a thousand dollars if they smoke in an apartment after the law goes into effect in January?
San Francisco is the largest U.S. city to enact such a ban, but don’t expect an immediate flurry of fines. The city’s Department of Public Health will use the threat of a hefty fine as a panopticon, hoping that the fear of getting dinged in the pocketbook — or the fear of neighbors’ scorn — will override a smoker’s urge to light up at home. In the ten years that the city’s current smoking prohibition has been in effect (it bans smoking in multi-unit housing common areas, such as lobbies and stairwells), the Department of Public Health has never issued individual violations.
Landlords cannot use the new ordinance as grounds for eviction, and police intervention would also be verboten. Instead, smoking rapscallions in defiance of the ban would receive a notice of violation from their landlord or building-management company only after receiving multiple interventions including education, cessation support, and warnings. If said smoker refuses to cease at-home puffing, a fine of $1,000 could theoretically be handed down — but it’s a last resort.
There are still concerns about who exactly the law will target. “It is pretty problematic and, as written, is sure to be used to harass long-term tenants,” says Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee, who worries the ordinance will affect the elderly. “It is sad that we live in a city where we let big corporations advertise and sell poisons, but will fine a tenant addicted to those poisons a thousand dollars.”