Public Comment

Pity the Poor Dowmtrodden Smoker

By Carol Denney
Friday March 08, 2013 - 06:02:00 PM

It’s baffling. Berkeley’s rent board commissioners assume that smokers only risk being unfairly targeted for eviction and becoming homeless because they’re helpless thralls to tobacco. As though they were incapable of stepping outside to smoke!

In my apartment building it’s the opposite: 100% of the on-site staff smokes. A majority of the board smokes. Those who raise the issue or try to document the exposure are shut out of meetings, refused information, excluded from discussion, and yes, targeted for eviction. The majority in our building, who do not smoke, know better than to say a word.

Berkeley’s rent board doesn’t seem to hear this group, which represents the majority of tenants nationwide, especially in Alameda County. That majority is being forced to smoke involuntarily.

Commissioners opine at meetings about smokers who might have to give up smoking” in their own home”, since doing so fills the home in the apartment next door full of toxic fumes. They practically weep at the inconvenience of having to take a stroll outside (it might be dangerous!) or using nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges in inclement weather, which all smokers do on plane flights or at movies anyway (the expense! the horror!).

They assume that this would be so unworkable that people would just light up (helplessly!) be evicted en masse, and end up under the freeway. Not that this has ever happened anywhere nationwide, mind you – they’re just certain it will happen here, first, in Berkeley, California.

Sound familiar? It does to anyone who has lived in California long enough to remember the tobacco industry’s campaign against smokefree restaurant and bar laws. The sky was going to fall. When the restaurant and bar business revenues didn’t decline, but rather increased, when compliance was relatively effortless, the heated hyperbole evaporated.

Until now. Now you can hear its echoes down at the rent board, where the sky seems to be about to fall all over again.

This renter wishes just once the rent board would consider that even if the mythology about mass evictions of smokers were true, there is something worse than losing one’s home: losing one’s life.

There are thousands of renters currently being entirely evicted from their own healthy lives by secondhand smoke. There are thousands of children being evicted from ever getting a chance to run or play sports by developing asthma as a result of secondhand smoke from apartment neighbors. There are thousands living with debilitating cancer treatments if they’re lucky enough to have coverage at all, and renters are most likely to have the least medical options.

Smokers have options: the stroll, the patch, etc. The rest of us don’t. We can only hope that someday the rent board remembers that we, and our families, are at risk for something much worse than eviction.