Should Smoking at Home Be Illegal?

March 20th, 2009 by Kathy McManus

A CA law bans smoking in apartments and condos. Some say the government should just butt out.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Two new legal commandments have been delivered to the Silicon Valley town of Belmont, California: 

Thou shalt not smoke in thy apartment
Thou shalt inform authorities of anyone who does smoke in an apartment

Belmont is home to America’s most restrictive secondhand smoking law, which now makes it illegal to light up in an apartment or condo that shares a wall, ceiling, or floor with another unit. Violators face a $100 fine from the city, as well as eviction if smoking violates their lease agreement. 

Additionally, the new law makes citizens responsible for enforcing it by encouraging them to call authorities and report their neighbors if they light up in any home other than a free-standing house. 

All of which has left some residents fuming--outside. 

“I’m absolutely outraged,” said one apartment dweller who now must leave home to smoke her two packs a day. “They’re telling you how to live and what to do, and they’re doing it right here in America.” 

Proponents of the new law, including the California Lung Association, see it differently. “They simply said that secondhand smoke is no less dangerous when it’s in your bedroom than in your workplace,” explained a spokesperson. 

“They” is the Belmont city council, whose members have received hate mail for passing the no-smoking-at-home ordinance, which one former council member likens to other matters of shared-living etiquette. “You can’t walk around naked in your house with the blinds open, or you’ll get arrested,” he said. “You can’t play loud music in your house and bother your neighbors. It’s illegal.” 

But even some supporters of smokers’ responsibility to so-called third parties, such as neighbors, are questioning whether Belmont should butt out. “There are good scientific and public health reasons for restricting smoking in closed public spaces,” said an expert in public health ethics. “But when such restrictions are extended to beaches, parks, sidewalks and now to the homes of smokers, the argument that third-party harms must be prevented becomes increasingly untenable.” 

Tell us what you think: Should smokers be responsible for their neighbors’ health? Should citizens be responsible for turning in at-home smokers? How far should government go in determining what you can do in the privacy of your home?