It covers any multi-family residence with three or more units, including condominiums, co-ops and apartments. The ban took effect Nov. 14.
"I'm not aware of any ordinance that's stronger," said Rebecca Woodbury, an analyst in the San Rafael's city manager's office who helped write the ordinance.
She cited studies that found secondhand smoke seeps through walls, ventilation ducts and even cracks as justification for the ordinance.
Critics jumped on Woodbury's reasoning and the ordinance itself.
"The science for that is spurious at best," said George Koodray, the state coordinator for Citizens Freedom Alliance and the Smoker's Club in New Jersey.
Steve Stanek, a research fellow at the free-market oriented policy group Heartland Institute in Chicago, supported the rights of smokers.
Stanek, a non-smoker, said, "My sympathies aren't with smokers because I am one, it's because of the huge growth in laws and punishments and government restricting people more and more."