A Bonnie Smoker

Published: February 11, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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Edith Frederickson loves to smoke.

In fact, the 72-year-old Belmont, California resident has been smoking for some 50 years in bars, restaurants, airplanes, trains, indoors and out.

However, two weeks ago the good citizens of Belmont enacted perhaps the toughest antismoking law in the country by banning smoking in all apartment buildings. The result:  Edith will no longer be able to smoke in her own home in the quiet little retirement complex known as Bonnie Brae Terrace.

“I’m absolutely outraged,” said Frederickson.  “They’re telling you how to live and what to do, and they’re doing it right here in America.”

City officials point to a group of retirees from Bonnie Brae“…who lobbied the city to stop secondhand smoke from drifting into their apartments from the neighbors’ places,” aNew York Times article reported.

“…the debate over the law has divided the residents of the Bonnie Brae into two camps,” the Times wrote, “with the likes of Ms. Frederickson, a hardy German émigré, on one side, and Ray Goodrich, a slim 84-year-old with a pulmonary disease and a lifelong allergy problem, on the other.”

“She is one tough old woman,” Goodrich said.

“I would not acknowledge that man for anything in the world,” Frederickson said. “He started this as a vendetta against other residents.”

The soft-spoken Goodrich, who’s been described as not the vendetta type, “…noticed smoke drifting in from neighbors’ rooms soon after he moved into Bonnie Brae in 1998.

“It gave me an instant headache,” Goodrich said. “I could be sitting and have the air filters going, which eliminated the visible smoke, but the smoke was still there.”

After a fire consumed a smoker’s apartment that was fueled by the tenant’s oxygen tank, Goodrich decided to take action with “…a letter-writing campaign, petitioning everyone from local officials to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which helps finance the privately managed Bonnie Brae, which serves low- and middle-income seniors.

“‘We need your help,’” read one of Mr. Goodrich’s letters in July 2006. ‘A barking dog disturbs our sleep but will not kill us. Secondhand smoke is killing us.’”

The letter got the attention of members of the Belmont City Council.  That and the repeated visits to council meetings by “Bonnie Brae tenants — using walkers, wheelchairs and oxygen tanks — and telling harrowing tales of life surrounded by secondhand smoke.”

Finally, the city council passed the law in October 2007, “barring smoking anywhere in the city of about 25,000 except in detached homes and yards, streets and some sidewalks, and designated smoking areas outside.

“The law took effect on Jan. 9, after a 14-month grace period that allowed apartment buildings time to comply with the new rules — like rewriting lease agreements to ban smoking — and tenants who objected to the changes to move. The law brings with it the threat of $100 fines, though city officials say no penalties have been levied yet.”

According to Goodrich, some smokers still meet clandestinely in various areas outside the complex, but by and large, the smoking has stopped.

And what about Edith Frederickson?

Well, she’s looking to move out of Bonnie Brae as soon as she can find another apartment she can afford.  Until then, “I’m going to keep being a criminal, let me tell you that,” she said.


  1. Author

    I enjoyed your piece on the smoker. What’s rarely noted when smokers are whacked is that the righteous whackers themselves often enough are polluting the air with far worse and far greater poison—fumes from the exhaust pipes of their cars. Beware non-smokers who throw stones from glass houses with two SUVs in the garage.

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