California state law prohibits smoking within 20 feet of main entrances, exits and operable windows of public buildings. Public buildings are those owned, leased and occupied by the state, county or city. Public buildings also include buildings of the University of California, California State University and California community colleges.
California law also prohibits smoking in a passenger vehicle owned by the state, like a shuttle bus operated by a state university. The federal government has its own regulations regarding smoking for federal offices. For example, the U.S. Postal Service prohibits smoking in all of its buildings and office spaces, including public lobbies. Federal law also prohibits smoking in schools used for K-12 education.
Smoking Laws for Private Businesses
The state law forbidding smoking in front of public buildings does not apply to private businesses, office buildings or stores. When a government office and a private business are situated in the same general space, such as an academic department from a public university with a leased space next to a barbershop, the 20-foot no smoking rule applies to the unit rented by the government. A management company, property owner or manager of a private business has the right to institute policies that ban smoking at their facilities. Such entities can also set a distance at which smoking is banned from entryways, windows and ventilation systems.
Smoking Restrictions for Places of Employment
California Smoke-Free Workplace Laws AB 13 and 3037 prohibit smoking in certain workplaces. A workplace with five or more employees must be smoke free. Bars, taverns and nightclubs also must be smoke free.
There are many exemptions under state laws. In a hotel or a motel, up to 20 percent of guest rooms are exempt from the smoke-free requirement. Smoking is allowed to take place in retail or wholesale tobacco shops and in private smoking lounges. Smoking may also take place in meeting and banquet rooms, except while food or beverage functions are taking place. People may not smoke at homes licensed as family day care homes during their hours of operation and in areas where children are present.
Creating a Smoking Area
An employer can create a smoking area for their employees. An employer with five or fewer employees may permit smoking in an area not accessible to minors. Air from the smoking area must be exhausted directly to the outside. The employer must obtain the consent of all employees to permit smoking, and no one may be required as part of their job to work in an area where smoking is permitted.
Cities May Further Restrict Smoking
Some California cities, like San Jose, further restrict smoking. For example, San Jose prohibits smoking in enclosed areas of buildings that are open to the public or that are places of employment, enclosed areas of apartments, condominiums and mobile home parks, and motor vehicles used in work, like taxis and buses. San Jose also prohibits smoking in city parks, on service lines, in outdoor dining areas, within 25 feet of entrances, exits, operable windows or air-intake windows of community centers or library-owned centers that are leased or occupied by the city, and in outdoor common areas of apartments, condominiums and mobile home parks that are open to public access or to access by residents.
Los Angeles passed amendments to the county’s antismoking ordinance in 2019 to close a number of loopholes. The changes affect businesses that operate in unincorporated Los Angeles County. The local rules now prohibit smoking within 25 feet of any outdoor area of an eating establishment or bar set aside for use by patrons. They also forbid smoking within 40 feet of any mobile food or temporary food facility, including trucks and carts that serve food to patrons.
No Protections for Smokers
California does not provide any accommodations for smokers in the workplace. The definition of “smoke” and “smoking” may include more than tobacco products; Los Angeles County has expanded the definition to include electronic cigarettes and smoking devices and cannabis.
Fire Departments Provide Enforcement
City and county agencies will provide enforcement of nonsmoking regulations. For example, the Los Angeles Fire Department offers local enforcement to assist with the ban on smoking in places of employment, with the exception of tobacco retailers and private residences. An individual should first report an incident of noncompliance by calling the City of Los Angeles Anti-Smoking Ordinance Hotline at: 213-978-3568. After the first complaint, the city will send a letter to the business owner that explains the relevant state law.
If there is a second complaint, the Los Angeles Fire Department will make a field investigation. The department is unable to accept, process or forward smoking complaints received via email or at neighborhood fire stations. A party should not call 911 to report a smoking violation.
Violations of Antismoking Laws
A party who violates California state law regarding smoking will suffer a penalty of up to $200 for the first violation, $500 for the second violation and up to $1,000 for a third or subsequent violation. Cal-OSHA may then issue a fine up to $7,000. A violation of a city or county rule is typically an infraction.
An enforcement officer will issue a citation with a fine to a patron, business owner or manager who violates a rule. A business owner, customer or nonemployee may be cited for smoking in a banned location, and a business owner who allows employees or customers to smoke in a banned location may be cited and scheduled to appear at an administrative hearing.
Smoking in Residential Units
An individual may smoke in their own residential unit if the lease allows them to do so. A property owner or apartment manager may create a lease that prohibits smoking within a residential unit or throughout the complex. Cities may pass ordinances that require certain types of housing to be smoke free.
San Jose is exploring an ordinance to require multiple family housing with three or more units to be smoke free, including triplexes, apartments, Single Room Occupancy (SRO) units and sorority and fraternity houses. California state law disallows smoking in most indoor common areas of apartments and condominium complexes, such as a laundry room or lobby with mailboxes. A city can ban smoking in an outdoor common area, such as a swimming pool area, as well as inside apartments and condos.
No Smoking at Beaches
Smoking and vaping is not allowed in most areas of state parks and beaches. Cities may also prohibit smoking at local parks and beaches. Certain cities, such as San Diego, have designated smoking areas. Cities may also ban smoking on sidewalks.
- San Diego County: Tobacco Regulations FAQ
- City of San Jose: Smoke-Free San Jose
- County of Los Angeles, Department of Public Health: Tobacco Control and Prevention Program
- California Air Resources Board: California Tobacco Laws That Reduce ETS Exposure
- California Department of Industrial Relations: AB-13 Fact Sheet - California Workplace Smoking Restrictions
- United States Postal Inspection Service: Rules and Regulations Governing Conduct on Postal Service Property
- Los Angeles Fire Department: Smoking Ordinance
- County of Los Angeles, Department of Public Health: Selected Tobacco Control Legislation (California)
- County of Los Angeles, Department of Public Health: Los Angeles County Strengthens Smoke-Free Ordinance
- California Legislature: AB-1718 State Parks, State Beaches, Smoking Ban
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.