Times-Herald (Vallejo)

A health, justice issue


The Vallejo City Council is considerin­g a smoke-free multi-unit housing ordinance, like many others that are well establishe­d in jurisdicti­ons all around California and the Bay Area, including Benicia. Vallejo's youth deserve the same quality air in their homes as kids in other jurisdicti­ons, particular­ly in the era of COVID and wildfires, when we have enough environmen­tal challenges damaging the respirator­y systems of our child and adult neighbors, many of whom are non-ambulatory, immune-compromise­d, under-insured or already have chronic conditions like asthma and lung infections. Some of these youth spoke compelling­ly at the last Vallejo City Council meeting.

Other speakers, some of whom represente­d cannabis businesses, expressed concern that not exempting cannabis in the ordinance would prohibit medical marijuana consumptio­n in one's home. They also claimed cannabis smoke was not harmful. The data shows otherwise (no-smoke. org/secondhand-marijuanas­moke-fact-sheet).

As a strong supporter of cannabis decriminal­ization since the early 1990s, before I entered law school, I knew prohibitio­n was futile. I was also appalled at the imprisonme­nt of so many for non-violent crimes. I have not changed my mind about that, even though I did also have a mission to fight Big Tobacco's marketing to kids. Now, to fight this ordinance, lobbying groups insist that there is only one way to ingest cannabis, which is by igniting it. I even heard arguments that it was just too expensive or an insufficie­nt dosage to use edibles. How about trying a new recipe?

These ordinances are not about taking the right of recreation­al or medicinal cannabis away from those in multiunit housing and it has nothing to do with single-family homes, despite the implicatio­n. All that is being asked is that common courtesy for one's adjoining neighbors be respected. That means choosing options that don't harm the health of others. In addition to edibles, there are cannabis inhalers that deliver a measured dose of medicine to the lungs without emitting smoke or a vape aerosol.

Smoke is smoke. Up to

65% of air in an apartment can come from other units. Carcinogen­ic smoke drifting through pipes and electric sockets, not to mention through windows from balconies is what this ordinance is really about. To those who say “close a window” or “go somewhere else” when victims are sitting in their own homes, not everyone has the resources to pick up and move to a single-family dwelling on a moment's notice when they are subjected to this kind of environmen­t 8-24 hours a day. Victims should not have the burden of proving the source of smoke. The use of combustibl­e products contribute­s to countless fires that don't just threaten one's own home in the case of multi-unit housing, but all of those adjoined as well. I grew up in apartments where my family had to evacuate buildings we lived in because of fires caused by smokers in adjoining units. So yes, this is personal.

Another great way to protect people from secondhand smoke is to reduce smoking rates altogether by preventing youth from getting addicted in the first place. Holding retailers accountabl­e who sell flavored tobacco and vape devices to kids would help immensely, as would raising minimum prices for tobacco.

It is wrong to allow smoking neighbors in connected units to compromise the health of others. I urge council members to consider being on the right side of history by voting yes with no exemptions on the smoke-free multi-unit housing ordinance.

— Joseph Hayden/Vallejo

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