It's not easy to be a smoker in New York City these days. It has become commonplace to see office workers in front of skyscrapers lighting up, or to hear announcements prohibiting smoking in theaters and other public venues. And now, under the New York City Smoke-free Air Act of 2002, smokers at restaurants and bars have to step outside to light up. It's not even legal to smoke in a previously designated "smoking lounge." About the only place left to smoke indoors is at home"¦or is it?
Last year, in a case that garnered quite a bit of attention in the press, one Manhattan co-op passed a resolution forbidding smoking in all newly sold apartments. The New York Times reported that potential buyers at 180 West End Avenue would be required to declare whether or not they smoked, and their application for purchase could be rejected on that basis. According to sources at the National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC) in Washington, D.C., this was likely the first such ruling by a co-op board. But, as more Americans become aware of the potential health hazards of secondhand smoke, there is a nationwide trend materializing to limit smoking in privately owned apartment complexes, co-ops and condominiums according to sources at several organizations that specialize in this area.
In 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report classifying Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) - or "secondhand" smoke - as a Group A carcinogen. The EPA assigns this dubious distinction to substances that have shown sufficient evidence of causing cancer in humans. According to information released by the EPA, the Group A designation has been used for only 15 other pollutants - among them such heavy-hitters as asbestos, radon, and benzene. According to a fact sheet published by the American Lung Association, "ETS causes an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths and 35,000 to 50,000 heart disease deaths in non-smokers, as well as 150,000 to 300,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infections in children under 18 months of age each year."
"Over the past five years, and especially during the last two to three years, there has been more focus on apartment and condominium complexes being totally smoke-free," says Jim Bergman, co-director of The Center for Social Gerontology in Ann Arbor Michigan and director of The Smoke Free Environments Law Project.
"The trend stems largely from health issues - especially for people with respiratory illnesses like asthma or emphysema, where secondhand smoke can be life-threatening." Bergman adds that smoking bans in venues such as workplaces and public spaces have put more attention on the issue.