Breathing Easy? Some Vancouver Condo Owners are… now

I have to say that I was applauding last week’s vote by Melville condo owners to go smoke free. I remember cleaning out the apartment of my chain-smoking grandfather after he passed away. Brown ooze ran down the walls as we washed them, a solid reminder of the nicotine and assorted chemicals that had filled the air of his apartment. I can’t imagine that his neighbours weren’t affected as we were when we visited, but it was an earlier time and there were few protections from second-hand smoke anywhere.

Creating a building-wide statute is a hard thing to decide to do, but the fact is – it is legal to create smoke-free housing units, and renters and apartment owners alike are increasingly looking at their options. Smoking in multi-unit dwellings is not just a personal choice, but one that can affect the health and air quality of neighbours and visitors. Smoke does not stay neatly in one place, it creeps and seeps through cracks and tiny openings and the results of exposure can be severe, especially for those with compromised health.

BC Stats calculates that up to 100,000 BC renters may move annually over this issue. A strong majority of those surveyed would prefer to live in a 100% smoke-free (including balconies) building—similar to results in surveys elsewhere. However, almost none exist in BC.

Smoke Free Housing BC, one of BCAHL’s initiatives led by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, has provided on-line resources since 2008 to help those who do not want to live with second-hand smoke, and folks who live in multi-unit housing are starting to pay attention.

In addition to a healthier smoke-free atmosphere, the benefits include reduced risk of fires. According to the BC Office of the Fire Commissioner, “smoking and smoking related materials (matches and lighters) are a significant cause of residential fires. In 2007, over one quarter of fire deaths were due to fires ignited by smokers. The damage from fires started by smoker’s materials was over $66 Million.

There are far more non-smokers than smokers in BC, and most people find smoke coming into their homes a nuisance. But many British Columbians are unaware of their rights, or feel uncomfortable complaining in order to have their rights upheld. Only 25% of those who had nuisance smoke in their buildings, complained according to the poll done by Smoke Free Housing BC in 2008.

Rights for tenants across BC need to be supported by healthy public policy. To save on expensive court costs, the BC Government could simply list “secondhand smoke” as a nuisance and breach of the “right to quiet enjoyment” in the Residential Tenancy Act so that this doesn’t have to be repetitively established in each incident or litigation.”

Do you want to explore your smoke-free options for rental or condo living? If so, check out the Smoke Free Housing BC site and start looking at your options for living smoke-free. Please be sure to tell us how it goes in the comments section below.

Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Policy and Programs
October 2012

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