July 8, 2006
Take smoking ban inside the home
Now that Ontario has introduced a province-wide ban on smoking in all enclosed
public places and workplaces, it may be time to consider protecting residents of
condominiums, multi-unit homes, attached and semi-detached dwellings and
apartments from second-hand smoke originating in adjacent or nearby units.
This suggestion is made in a recently released backgrounder report by the
Non-Smokers' Rights Association, or NSRA. Entitled Exposure to Drifting
Second-hand Smoke in Multi-Unit Dwellings, the report notes that such smoke
is a serious health hazard for many people living in what is essentially the
same building. It is available on the NSRA website at
and on this website at
As society learns more about the dangers of exposure to second-hand
smoke, it is ironic that many Ontarians can now go out and enjoy smoke-free
experiences in bars, restaurants and many other public places, only to be
unwillingly exposed to polluted air at home.
There is no longer any room for debate that second-hand smoke is more
than a nuisance. It is a toxic soup of more than 4,000 chemicals.
As long ago as 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified
second-hand smoke as a Group A carcinogen.
More than 50 cancer-causing chemicals have been found in second-hand
smoke, including arsenic, benzene and vinyl chloride.
Exposure to second-hand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable
death in Canada, after smoking and alcohol abuse.
Health Canada estimates that every year some 700 Canadian non-smokers
will die of heart disease and 300 will die of lung cancer as the result of
prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke. Reputable health organizations
worldwide have concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand
No one would dispute anyone's right to smoke in their own residence, but
a problem may arise for their neighbours when smoke emitted from the burning end
of a cigarette (called second-hand smoke) drifts or seeps into an adjoining
house, apartment or condominium unit from various sources, such as the
open windows or doors, including patios and balconies
electrical outlets, cable or phone jacks and ceiling fixtures
cracks and gaps around sinks, countertops, windows, doors, floors, walls and
a shared heating or ventilation system.
The seriousness of the issue of breathing unwanted cigarette smoke
achieved considerable publicity late in May when 61-year-old Heather Crowe died
of lung cancer just before the Smoke-Free Ontario Act came into force. Crowe
never smoked a day in her life, but spent 40 years working in smoky bars and
She became known for the television and radio commercials in which she
told how she contracted lung cancer without ever having been a smoker.
Despite the laws and by laws which protect non-smokers from breathing
cigarette or cigar smoke in the common areas of multi-unit dwellings, no
legislative body has yet been prepared to address the issue of adults smoking in
their own homes, whether or not the smoke affects other people.
According to the Non-Smokers' Rights Association report, in the absence
of full co-operation from smoking tenants or owners in adjacent units, as well
as the landlords, condominium boards and property managers, there may well be a
need for tribunals, courts and lawmakers to address the issue.
(A word of disclosure here: I am volunteer chair of the NSRA, but the
report was researched and written by staffer Pippa Beck without any involvement
by me or the NSRA board.)
At the moment, claiming the right to breathe clean air in your own
condominium unit, apartment or duplex can be an uphill struggle.
Those bothered by smoke from adjacent units are advised to attempt some
form of negotiated resolution with their neighbours, property managers,
condominium boards or landlords.
Many would argue that this issue crosses the line of acceptability by
infringing on the rights of smokers in their own homes. As non-smokers have
enjoyed increasingly more smoke-free workplaces and public places, some smokers
no doubt see their rights as rapidly being usurped.
Although I have yet to see no-smoking clauses in condominium declarations
or residential leases, it is possible that some do exist. And it is even more
likely such prohibitions will become increasingly common in the near future.
It may also turn out to be a good marketing technique if landlords and
builders of multi-unit residential units and condominiums begin advertising
their projects as smoke-free. Buyers and tenants could therefore be assured that
they would never be subject to migrating second-hand smoke.
My guess is that smoke-free condominiums, multiplexes and apartment
buildings will attract more occupants than they will deter. This was the
experience in many restaurants when they became smoke-free.
If the suggestion about prohibiting smoking in multi-unit private
residences where smoke can travel to adjacent units seems a bit over the top, it
may be good to remember that it wasn't that long ago when smoking in
restaurants, theatres, offices, banks and elevators was commonplace.
Public opinion and attitudes change over time in a sophisticated society.
This proposal might be one change for the better.
Bob Aaron is a Toronto real estate lawyer. He can be reached by email at email@example.com, phone 416-364-9366 or fax 416-364-3818.
Visit the Toronto Star column archives at http://www.aaron.ca/columns for articles on this and other topics or his main webpage at www.aaron.ca.