Richmond, Pinole crack down on secondhand smoke

Smokers in Richmond and Pinole soon will have fewer places to light up.

The cities are cracking down on secondhand smoke by banning smoking in outdoor public areas such as parks, trails and where parades, farmers markets and other public events are held.

Richmond’s far-reaching ban also prohibits smoking in indoor places where people congregate and work — regardless of whether it’s publicly or privately owned — including eateries, bars, hotel lobbies, conference rooms and common areas in apartment buildings. People will still be able to smoke at home and on sidewalks and streets, but not within 25 feet of a door, window or vent that leads to a place where smoking is prohibited.

“There was a big brouhaha when we got smoking out of restaurants, airplanes, bars and so on, and we’ve all adjusted to it,” Richmond Councilman Jeff Ritterman said. “This is just part of the same, and it’s going to put us in the forefront of being leaders in public health.”

Pinole’s ban isn’t as broad. Officials already prohibit smoking in buildings, vehicles and other public areas occupied by city employees, and will extend the rule to parking lots and to within 20 feet of public building entrances.

Officials in the two cities gave preliminary nods to the bans this week and expect to give final approval next month. The laws will go into effect 30 days after final approval — just in time for Pinole’s Summer Sounds in the Park and Pinole Cinema Fridays at Sundown, the city-sponsored concert and film series in Fernandez Park that begin July 9 and 10.

Secondhand smoke is listed as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

California legislators passed laws in 1995 and 1998 declaring most indoor workplaces smoke-free, following up in 2004 with banning smoking within 20 feet of doors and windows of public buildings. Cities and counties have since passed laws of their own that are broader than the state’s.

Contra Costa County already restricts smoking in many public areas, service areas such as ATMs or bus stops and common areas of multiunit residences. Now they want apartment owners to tell prospective tenants which neighbors smoke and how they handle cigarette complaints.

The city of Belmont has gone as far as prohibiting smoking in individual apartment units if the unit shares a common floor or ceiling with another unit.

Except for San Ramon, every Contra Costa city earned a “D” or an “F” for having anti-smoking laws in an American Lung Association report released in January. Contra Costa County, which also requires tobacco retailers to pay $160 for licenses, got a “B.”

Richmond’s “F” grade prompted officials to toughen their laws.

Violators of the new secondhand-smoke law in Richmond could be charged with infractions or misdemeanors. Fines could go up to $1,000 per violation if the city files a civil suit. In addition, tobacco retailers would be required to get a license before selling; the fees would be set later. A third law would make it illegal to distribute free samples of tobacco products in public places, one of the ways tobacco companies lure young adults, officials said.

In Pinole, a violation would be an infraction carrying penalties starting at $100 and increasing to $500.

Richmond resident Valerie Yerger, a health disparities researcher at the UC San Francisco who said tobacco disproportionately affects certain groups including minorities and the poor, applauded the new laws.

“Having smoke-free policies has been shown to be the most effective way to keep young folks from picking up smoking and to help reduce smoking among adult smokers,” she said.

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