Residents of Bonnie Brae Terrace, a housing complex for low-income seniors in the Northern California suburb of Belmont, were growing frustrated by the secondhand tobacco smoke drifting into their apartments from their smoking neighbors.
Some were cancer survivors or had severe health conditions that were exacerbated by exposure to secondhand smoke. Several had even lived through a terrifying fire at the complex the year before that was caused by a smoldering cigarette.
One night a dozen or so of the residents showed up at a city council meeting to voice their concerns.
A "tremendous opportunity"
The council responded to residents' complaints by directing the city attorney to draft an ordinance to restrict smoking almost everywhere in the city — an unprecedented move that would create the nation’s first comprehensive smokefree policy.
“We have a tremendous opportunity here,” Councilman Dave Warden said. “We need to pass as stringent a law as we can.”
ChangeLab Solutions had already developed a model ordinance for creating smokefree places, and worked closely with Belmont’s city attorney to customize it.
The model ordinance gave city officials a menu of options, including the choice of banning smoking altogether in apartment units or requiring landlords to designate a certain percentage of units smokefree.
Belmont chose to pursue smoking restrictions not only in outdoor areas such as dining patios, parks, and bus shelters, but also inside all multi-unit housing such as apartment buildings, condo complexes, and senior housing developments.
Changing the conversation
Soon after the new law was proposed, city officials began receiving emails and letters of support and opposition from all over the world — Canada, England, Australia, and cities across America. The proposal ignited an international debate over smokers' rights that played out in major media outlets for months.
The city pushed ahead and made history by adopting what the San Francisco Chronicle called "the most sweeping anti-smoking law in the world," based on the model ChangeLab Solutions developed.
Today dozens of cities and counties in California have laws on the books that prohibit smoking in at least some multi-unit housing, and the momentum continues to build for smokefree housing laws nationwide.