Secondhand smoke a smoldering issue, especially in housing complexes

By Amy Neff Roth
Utica Observer Dispatch
Posted Mar. 17, 2015 at 6:00 AM

Which takes precedence , a smoker’s right to smoke at home or the right of a neighbor in the same apartment building to breathe clean air?

That’s a good question in the wake of a report stating that one in four non-smokers still breathes in secondhand smoke , most of it at home.

The report, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends that landlords and municipal housing authorities make apartments and other multi-unit housing smoke-free. It also points out that 15 cities and counties in California have banned smoking in all multi-unit housing.

Across the country, more housing authorities and landlords are banning smoking , out of concern for their tenants’ health and out of concern for the damage caused by cigarettes and smoke. In California, 15 municipalities have banned smoking in all multi-unit housing, the CDC report pointed out.

The housing authorities in Dolgeville and Oneida have made some of their buildings smoke-free. And the Utica Municipal Housing Authority has three smoke-free buildings and is in the process of implementing a no-smoking policy in its senior housing. Once that policy is in place and working well, the authority will discuss a smoking ban in its other buildings with residents, said Interim Executive Director Robert Calli.

“Is smoke-free a trend? Absolutely,” said Realtor John Brown of Coldwell Banker Faith Properties. “Is smoke-free a trend in private pay, upscale rentals? Absolutely.”

In large complexes just outside Utica, no smoking policies have been getting almost as common as no-pets policies, he said.

Edward Jekel, executive officer of the Mohawk Valley Association of Realtors, said he hasn’t heard much about smoke-free policies.

“In our area, because there are so few rentals, most people are just happy to get one,” he said.
He does expect that to change, though.

“Do I think it would be a selling point? Yeah,” he said

“I hate to see us keep imposing things that people can’t do in the privacy of their home,” Brown added. “However, if it’s public housing and you’re exposing a community to secondhand smoke, then we have to be very cognizant of these things.”

Utica resident Susan Roberts smokes, but stopped smoking in her home in June and understands why non-smokers don’t want secondhand smoke seeping into their apartments. “It’s kind of like a hotel. I agree they should have separate units like they do in a hotel,” she said.

She’s concerned that if housing authorities ban smoking, lower-income smokers won’t have any options and she does not support, she said, an across-the-board smoking ban in all multi-unit housing.
Many smokers are getting tired of being told where they can’t smoke.

“You want to ban smoking in public places, fine. ÔǪ Banning it in my car or in my home, no, you’re going to be arresting me because I refuse to stop. It’s my place; they’re my lungs, period,” wrote Matt Stell of Rome in a discussion on the issue on the Observer-Dispatch’s Facebook page.

In the discussion, some non-smokers sympathized with the smokers. Many others said they don’t think anyone should be subjected to a neighbor’s smoke.

“You absolutely have the right to put toxic chemicals into your body,” wrote Patricia Kain, a Frankfort resident who lives in a three-apartment house. “However, you do not have the right to subject ME to that noxious concoction. I choose NOT to smoke. Why do I have to breathe in your secondhand smoke?”

In the report, the CDC acknowledged a huge drop in secondhand smoke exposure thanks to smoke-free laws, a smoking ban in four out of five households and a drop in the smoking rate.

But secondhand smoke still leads to 41,000 deaths from heart disease and lung cancer each year and 400 deaths from sudden infant death syndrome, according to the report. Secondhand smoke also causes respiratory infections, ear infections and asthma attacks in children.

For landlords, going smoke-free is more than a health issue; it’s a financial one. Smokers’ apartments cost more to renovate between tenants, Jekel said. And smoke-free could be a selling point.
Jekel said he’s seen a constantly growing awareness of the dangers of smoking in his lifetime and figures it eventually will include housing.

“I don’t smoke, my wife doesn’t smoke,” he said. “When we go and travel and ask for a hotel room, we ask for smoke-free. So I think it’s only a matter of time.”

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