Smoking in workplaces, restaurants, and bars has long been banned in the city of Los Angeles.

Now, some apartment buildings might be joining that list.

A citywide campaign launched last week by UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research, in conjunction with public and private organizations, is aiming to promote the advantages of smoke-free apartments across the city.

The $3 million campaign, funded by a grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will involve educating landlords on their right to voluntarily implement smoking bans and raising awareness among tenants about the effects of secondhand smoke. An advertising campaign developed by Brown Miller Communications Inc. of Martinez will drive home the message with billboards and signs placed in bus shelters and various other locations around the city.

“The elimination of exposure to secondhand smoke is an important means by which to improve health,” said Peggy Toy, director of Smokefree Apartments Los Angeles, a project of the Center for Health Policy Research at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. “The stumbling block here is people are not aware it’s a problem they can do something about.”

Breathing easier

Some landlords have begun implementing bans of their own and see the decision as a win-win.

“It just positively affects the bottom line as it relates to dollars and cents, and also positively affects the health of your tenants,” said Denise Brown, chief executive of Jefferson Park´s Fame Corp., which made all 320 affordable residential units in its 12 apartment buildings smoke free as of Jan. 1. The ban includes balconies, common areas, and parking garages.

“I think when you look at just the insurance cost going down, the maintenance costs going down, that’s a ton of money over a decade.”

Still, there might be pushback if landlords eventually see the implementation of far-reaching legislation on this issue.

“People who own property ought to determine the rules of the property,” said Daniel Faller, president of the Apartment Owners Association of California Inc., adding that he had no issue with voluntarily implemented bans, but saw laws restricting how landlords rent property as a breach to free enterprise.

¨It’s the philosophy behind it that bothers us, in that other people can tell property owners what to offer their tenants,” he said.

Toy said the city’s rent-control law could also pose complications. The law, passed in 1978, prevents landlords from altering existing leases unless the tenant agrees. If a smoking ban were implemented, for example, new tenants would fall in a separate category from those who signed on when smoking was allowed.

Gaining pace

As a handful of local municipalities adopt smoke-free ordinances banning cigarette and marijuana smoking in apartment buildings, the new campaign might be riding a tailwind.

In the last five years, Santa Monica, Glendale, Compton, Pasadena, El Monte, Manhattan Beach, and Culver City have implemented smoking bans for common areas of residential complexes or in private apartment and condominium units.

“The city of Los Angeles is sort of the donut hole,” Toy said. But that could soon change.

“I think what will happen eventually is all apartments and all condominiums will be smoke free,” said Esther Schiller, executive director of Smokefree Air for Everyone, noting the impact of increased funding for educational campaigns from the state’s Department of Public Health, the CDC, and the American Lung Association.

Smoking bans have gained traction over time. A statewide smoke-free ban in workplaces and public spaces took effect in 1995, while restaurants and bars became smoke free three years later − a move which seemed unthinkable back then.

“All of us who worked on all of these things were astounded,” said Schiller, who has been involved with the issue for almost 25 years.

Recent developments, however, seem promising for advocates in favor of a ban, especially as landlords come around to the idea.

Fame’s Brown estimated that the smoking ban would save the company an estimated $5,000 to $15,000 on fire and building insurance a year, in addition to tens of thousands of dollars on lost occupancy dollars and capital from cleaning units that had been occupied by smokers.

“I think it’s beneficial for the landlords,” said Joe Rudeas, who implemented a smoking ban at both a 17-unit property he owns in Hanover Park and a 34-unit property in North Hollywood. The result was a savings of thousands of dollars from not paying cleaning fees to get rid of cigarette odors.

This new campaign by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research has been launched in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, and American Lung Association.

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