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Union City Green Lights Smoking Ordinances for Greener Air

With a smoking ordinance approved and ready to go in to effect Dec. 23, Union City will soon possess the highest American Lung Association rating in Alameda County.

The people have spoken and the city has deliberated.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the  City Council approved an ordinance to strengthen local smoking rules and second-hand smoking policies.

The ordinance would ban smoking in multi-family rental units, public events and at certain outdoor locations. In addition, a Union City specific license will be required for any retailers wishing to sell tobacco products within city limits. 

Medical marijuana users will be exempt from the ordinance. 

Through these measures, the city will have passed the test needed to raise the "D" grade it received in the American Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control 2009 annual report. The report classifies the smoke-free outdoor air quality of Bay Area cities by quality of air or its attempt to reduce the spread of second-hand smoke.

After the ordinance goes into effect Dec. 23, Union City's efforts to reduce the risk of second-hand smoke in public space and in multi-family dwellings, as well as educate youth of the risks of tobacco, will earn the city the American Lung Association's  "A" rating. 

"It will be the top city in Alameda County ... a shining leader," said Serena Chen, policy director for the American Lung Association. Chen and fellow American Lung Association staff members have worked closely with Union City to improve the city's air quality ranking. 

Chen also mentioned that  students plan to work closely with city staff to facilitate the laws regarding retailers selling tobacco to persons under the age of 18 years old. 

"I enjoy shopping at Union Landing, but I do not like all the smoking, particularly places I eat at [such as] ," said James Logan student Jamie Caron, who is in strong support of the ordinance for both her benefit and that of other Logan students. 

Julia Waters, also of the American Lung Association, commended the city for pushing forward with the ordinance, particularly the youth component. Waters stated that initiation to cigarettes begins between the ages of 16 and 19 and that having "this ordinance in place can effect those numbers".

Several Union City residents spoke out in favor of the smokefree ordinance including Melody St. Gail whose three-year-old uses an inhaler to combat asthma. 

"I look forward to a smoke-free Union City," St. Gail said.  

One voice speaking out against the ordinance was Timothy May, executive director of the Rental Housing Owners Association.

"I don't think I can change your vote," said May, who hopes that the city may be able to offer property owners incentives to comply "early and often" with ordinance regulations on rental property, such as the installation of new "No Smoking" signage.  

Every year, the American Lung Association carefully reviews the policies of every city in the state to determine local grades in three policy areas including smokefree outdoor air; smokefree housing; and reducing sales of tobacco products. An overall grades is assigned based on the jurisdiction's rankings in three categories. In the case of Union City, it received a "C" for "Smokefree Outdoor Air", a "D" for its "Smokefree Housing" policies, and a "D" for its policies to reduce the sales of tobacco products. 

This is why Mayor Green and the city council are eager to improve Union City's dismal "D". If the city follows its planned route of attack on the impact of second-hand smoke within its limits, its near failing classification will automatically increase to an  American Lung Association approved "A" rating. 

In order to improve outdoor air quality, the city will prohibit smoking in outdoor restaurant and bar spaces, at public events, and in city owned and operated recreational areas with some exceptions, as defined by the city manager.  

The new ordinance will require 100 percent of multi-family rental complexes, those consisting of two or more units, to be designated non-smoking within 14 months of the effective date.

As well, the new ordinance will reduce sales of tobacco products, prohibiting sampling of tobacco products entirely and establishing a local retail tobacco license. Licenses would be revoked and businesses would be fined as a penalty for violations.

Union City will also increase enforcement of tobacco laws and provide more smoking-related education, made possible in part by a $7,000 grant provided by the Alameda County Health Department Tobacco Control Program.

With this increased enforcement comes a "minor decoy operation" in which persons appearing to be under the age of 18 attempt to purchase tobacco products from establishments citywide.  

The smoking ordinance will be adopted at the Nov. 23 council meeting and go into effect 30 days later on Dec. 23.

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