Are smokers in a building? Prospective buyers, tenants have a right to know

By Alicia Featherstone, M.D.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 31, 2012

We all have the right to make healthy decisions concerning our home. As a medical doctor, I know that most families want to protect their loved ones from potential health risks, especially at home. New York City has the highest concentration of multi-unit housing in the country, which means most of us share walls, stairwells, lobbies, and most importantly, the air we breathe.

Studies show that secondhand smoke travels between units and floors, through cracks in piping, ventilation and flooring. According to the Surgeon General, there is absolutely no safe level of exposure. Even brief exposure can cause health problems, especially for children and the elderly.

Most people don’t know if their building allows smoking or whether they will be exposed to secondhand smoke in their home until they are already residents. In health care, patients must provide consent prior to receiving treatment. Why shouldn’t people know if their building allows smoking before moving in?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed residential smoking disclosure policy for apartment buildings provides a means of informed consent. It requires landlords and owners to disclose their building’s smoking policy to prospective tenants or buyers, so they can make an informed decision. The policy would give New Yorkers, including the 86 percent who don’t smoke, a chance to make that choice. I would choose to live where the health of my family is not compromised by exposure to secondhand smoke.

Disclosure policies are not new. Federal and state laws have already addressed similar residential health hazards such as lead-based paint, radon and methamphetamine laboratory residue by requiring disclosure in real estate documents. Evidence suggests that these disclosures have reduced the health consequences resulting from exposure.

As a primary care provider, I believe disclosure policies help to provide healthier living conditions for the entire community. For those smokers who choose to live in a smoke-free facility, there will be an increased incentive to stop smoking and their families and neighbors would not be exposed to secondhand smoke at home.

New York City stopped smoking in bars and restaurants almost ten years ago, and last year, our parks and beaches became smoke-free. If we can protect our health in these public places, why can’t we protect our health in our homes? We have a right to know if smoking is allowed in a building before we move in.

Alicia Featherstone is a Brooklyn physician who works at the Brownsville Multi-Service Family Health Center

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