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.
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.”