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Smoking Restrictions in Palo Alto

Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death and disease in California, killing nearly 40,000 Californians every year. The 2012 Surgeon General's Report found that about 90 percent of all smokers first tried cigarettes as teens, and that about three of every four teen smokers continue into adulthood. Young adults, ages 18 to 24, have the highest smoking prevalence among any age group according to the California Department of Public Health. 

In 2017, the City of Palo Alto, recognizing the dangers of smoking and secondary smoke, adopted revisions to the City's existing Smoking and Tobacco Regulations (Ordinance 9.14) to prohibit smoking in designated public spaces, including outdoor dining areas, entryways, public events, recreation areas, and service areas and multi-family residential units. Smoking restrictions for public areas and multi-unit residences are summarized below. Smoking Restrictions in City of Palo Alto Public Areas include:

  • commercial areas (regional and neighborhood);        
  • outdoor dining areas;   
  • outdoor service areas: bus stops, ATMs, ticket lines, etc.;      
  • all public events;    
  • places of employment, including construction worksites;all parks and open space, include the City's golf course; within 25 feet of enclosed areas; exceptions to the current ban are allowed if there is a designated smoking area established and approved by the City that is at least 25 feet from building and includes a cigarette butt receptacle.

Multi-unit Residences
Palo Alto City Council unanimously voted in December 2016 to restrict smoking at all multi-unit residences and common areas to reduce public exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoking restrictions for multi-unit residences go into effect on January 1, 2018. Landlords and sellers of condominium units are required to give written notice to tenants and buyers about the smoking ban and include smoking prohibitions as part of the terms of their rental agreements. This ordinance requirement considered input from a 2015 survey of Palo Alto multi-unit residents. The survey showed that:

  • 80% of multi-unit residents said smoking inside the unit bothers them;
  • 64% indicated smoke bothers them very much;
  • 90% favored smoking restrictions in multi-unit housing.

Public Smoking Ordinance Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Current Smoking and Tobacco Regulations (Ordinance 9.14)

New: City Council to Consider Tobacco Retail Permit Ordinance September 18, 2017
City Council is scheduled to consider an ordinance requiring tobacco retailers to maintain a Tobacco Retail Permit (TRP–also referred to as a license) which would be administered by Santa Clara County Public Health Department. The ordinance would also:      

  • prohibit tobacco sales at pharmacies;
  • set distance requirements between tobacco retailers and schools (current businesses are excluded from this requirement until the business transfers ownership);
  • prohibit sales of flavored tobacco products;
  • limit storefront advertising;
  • prohibit vending machine sales of tobacco products.

Additional details are outlined in a letter that was sent to Palo Alto tobacco retailers on September 1, 2017 and in the draft ordinance (see documents below).

Palo Alto City Council is currently scheduled to consider the draft TRP Ordinance on Monday, September 18 6:00pm during its City Council Meeting, City Council Chambers, 250 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto. Council agenda dates and discussion times are subject to change. If you plan to attend the meeting, visit the Palo Alto City Council Meeting Agenda webpage in advance to ensure that the meeting date or discussion time has not been revised. You may also submit comments to City Council by emailing

Proposed Tobacco Retailer Permit Ordinance Timeline

  • September 18, 2017– First ordinance reading
  • October, 2017–Second ordinance reading (date to be determined);
  • July 1, 2018– Retailers must have a Tobacco Retail Permit and are subject to all Permit requirements including distance requirements between other tobacco retailers and schools upon transfer of ownership; pharmacies may no longer sell tobacco products;
  • January 1, 2019– All remaining Ordinance provisions go into effect including prohibited sales of flavored tobacco, prohibited use of tobacco vending machines, and limits on in-store tobacco advertising.

Documents for the proposed Tobacco Retail Permit Ordinance:

      Last Updated September 7, 2017