To Ban or Not to Ban? Where There's Smoke There's Controversy

 Fans of the television show Mad Men, set in the mid-1960s, are often shocked by  the near-constant presence of smoldering cigarettes in nearly everyone's hands.  Indeed, if if you told any of the show's characters that in just a few decades,  cities across the nation – including New York and Chicago - would ban smoking not just in office  buildings, but also in bars, restaurants, and even public parks, they would  have laughed in disbelief.  

 Of course, we know better – and breathe easier, for the most part. In 2008 the Smoke-Free Illinois Act went  into full effect, prohibiting smoking in virtually all public places and  workplaces, including offices, theaters, museums, libraries, educational  institutions, schools, commercial establishments, enclosed shopping centers and  retail stores, restaurants, bars, private clubs and gaming facilities. Last  year, the ante was upped by banning smoking in city parks, beaches, public  plazas and boardwalks - violators can be fined $500 for lighting up.  

 Butts Out

 Now, in 2012 there is a controversial proposal on deck to ban smoking in private  apartments as well. Illinois State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-12th District,  Chicago), is one who firmly believes in the ban, and she's backing up her  beliefs with proposed legislation. This past January, Feigenholtz, along with  fellow Rep. Kelly M. Cassidy (D-14th District, Chicago), introduced a bill that  would give Illinois condo associations the legal authority to ban smoking in  the private units of multifamily buildings.  

 The Smoke-free Illinois Act axed smoking in public spaces and in private  businesses, but private residences were exempt, since trying to legislate  people's behavior in their own homes strikes many – even staunch anti-smokers – as unfair, and possibly even unconstitutional, falling as it does right on the  line between public health and private property.  

 Feigenholtz has heard this argument often, but disagrees. She believes that  smoke can travel from a smoker's apartment into other units thus affecting the  health of the other residents. “Secondhand smoke can cause health problems ranging from a sore throat to asthma  symptoms to lung cancer,” she says. “If a condo resident’s smoking can imperil a neighbor’s health, then condominium associations should be able to impose building  smoking restrictions. This legislation will encourage condominium associations  to opt-in to existing law and update their bylaws to address resident tobacco  use – but it places no mandates or requirements on the associations to do so.”  

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3 Comments

  • I liked this article because it ends by recommending "an open, ongoing dialogue with residents" to find solutions for the smoking issue that are good for everybody, even the smokers. If the smokers see you are equally interested in their needs, they will cooperate with the ban and support it and abide by it. If they think they're being attacked, they will oppose it and possibly find ways to defeat it or subvert it later. The preferred outcome can be assured by holding a community-wide meeting on the smoking issue in which a facilitator uses the Consensus Based Approach to get 99 percent of the owners on board. Read "Breaking Roberts Rules: The New Way to Run your Meeting, Build Consensus, and Get Results" co-authored by MIT professor Lawrence Susskind.
  • I have this very problem in my beautiful condo that I've lived in for 20 years. My neighbor downstairs moved out and someone new moved in that smokes. I never knew smoking would be an issue because my old neighbor did not smoke. I have a few health issues that are affected by the smoke and I have consulted construction and HVAC techs to seal openings to no avail. The smoke is coming through the "fresh air" returns. How ironic is that? My heart condition has been asymptomatic for years and now it has begun to bother me again from breathing in the smoke. I told my new neighbor that I am having problems, even have a note from my MD, but she says she will do whatever she wants. Even the construction guys said that she should be doing the same thing - sealing her unit. I've read where air purifiers remove the smoke to a great degree - why can't she buy one of them? She came from a single home and thinks this is the same but it is not. My Association says there is nothing they can do but I think it is more a case of them choosing to do nothing. I am a few years from retirement and hoped to stay here until then but I can't live with this. I don't want my health to get worse and not be able to retire at all. If I am forced to move, I will NEVER buy another condo again. Smokers say they have a right to smoke but there is no law, no amendment, no nothing that says so. I would like to think that I have a right to breathe freely and not feel sick all the time because of someone else's addiction.
  • Philadelphia CityView Owner with a smoker's a on Friday, August 07, 2015 12:57 AM
    I agree with every point you've stated, Kathy. I empathize with you because I have been going through a similar living situation. Smokers have no rights. Any smoker who claims otherwise, is incredibly selfish and purposefully blind to it's health consequences (or doesn't care). Every day I smell like an ashtray, and my well kempt condo stinks. No matter what I do, air fresheners everywhere, doesn't help. One of the smokers was actually a visitor, defended my her offensive daughter. I currently don't have severe breathing issues, but they can result from chronic second hand smoke. This other smoker is a chain smoker, and recent. I've owned this place for 10 years now, and for the past 4 months have been forced to live like a smoker. It's invasive, deadly, and indeed a nuisance allowed by my association. Our building has never been smoke free, but I hope more people in my building reach out and push our board to propose something, rather than being idle with zero enthusiasm to take action.