By SAM SCOTT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Chris Ranta usually lights up outdoors. Even as a fan of heavy-hitting Marlboro Reds, he doesn’t want to be surrounded by the odor in his house.
But news that he soon may not have the choice to smoke at home strikes him as preposterous. The Sebastopol City Council voted Tuesday to ban cigarette smoking in multi-unit dwellings, while preserving the right to consume medical marijuana in such abodes.
It’s something out of “1984,” George Orwell’s famous story of government run amok, said Ranta, who lives in Bear Meadows Townhomes on Bodega Avenue.
“That’s Big Brother talking,” he said. “You’re taking rights away from a person.”
Not so says Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer, one of the main champions of the change. She’s said the restrictions — which passed unanimously — are about giving rights to children, not taking rights.
It’s a topic she’s lived through. As a child growing up with parents who both smoked in the house, she was perpetually sick, she said.
She picked up the habit herself, but quit at 29 after numerous illnesses. Since then, she’s been a picture of health, she said.
The restriction on smoking in multi-unit dwellings ensures that one person’s smoke doesn’t pollute another’s abode through common vents, crawl spaces and other passages. And it ensures, kids don’t bear the brunt of that seepage. “You’re really trapped as a kid like I was,” she said.
The vote delighted Pam Granger, with the American Lung Association of California, who said she was “happy, happy, happy” that a municipality in her backyard was taking such a strong position.
In California, only the city of Belmont has an ordinance as broad as Sebastopol’s, although Rohnert Park will have a smoking prohibition in half of that city’s apartments that takes effect next year.
Granger cited 2006 remarks by Vice Admiral Richard H. Carmona, then the U.S. Surgeon General, to show the level of importance. Carmona said: “There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure, with even brief exposure adversely affecting the cardiovascular and respiratory system.”
“We are thrilled they are stepping up to meet the demands of the public,” Granger said.
Still, even some non-smokers felt the vote was a reach of government powers. Bev Alexander, who quit smoking when she was pregnant with her now 26-year-old son, said she she considers smoking dirty and disgusting.
But Alexander, who lives in an apartment off Bodega Avenue, has a hard time with the idea of being able to tell someone what they can do in the privacy of their home.
“Your home is supposed to be your castle,” she said. “If you can’t do what you want to do in your home, how can you call it your castle?”
Council members had originally considered passing restrictions on all smoking, but limited themselves to tobacco after hearing from users of medicinal marijuana.
Shaffer said she dislikes smoke of all kinds. But she said she didn’t want to stigmatize people who need doctor-prescribed cannabis for medical conditions.
Councilman Larry Robinson, however, said limiting the restriction to tobacco was out of legal necessity. The proposed ordinance had focused all its reasoning and evidence on tobacco, not pot.
“We didn’t really have sufficient justification for banning other kinds of smoke,” Robinson said.
The council will revisit the issue later to see if complaints about pot smoking become a problem, he said
Robert Jacob, the executive director of the town’s Peace In Medicine cannabis dispensary, said the decision to leave medical marijuana alone was a significant victory.
“It’s a great moment in the story of medicinal cannabis that a city actually recognized the value of medicinal cannabis versus the harmful effects of tobacco,” he said.
The ordinance requires that landlords write into leases for new renters a prohibition on smoking, with a 14-month grace period for existing tenants.
The Sebastopol ordinance will be brought back at a future City Council meeting for final approval, usually a routine step.