As the harmful effects of cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke have become more widely publicized and acknowledged, anti-smoking campaigns have gained traction across the country. Cigarette commercials have been banned from TV and radio since 1971. Smoking has effectively been banned in most workplaces. In 2003, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg got his tough anti-smoking bill passed, which outlawed smoking in restaurants and bars in New York City—something many would have thought impossible just a few years ago.
Many people in the health and public-interest communities have put forth the idea of a “smoke-free society,” even to the point of banning the habit in private residences. The issue has arisen in a number of New York City co-op and condo buildings, and in 2006, a decision handed down by a New York Civil Court judge in the Poyck v. Bryant case—which involved a Manhattan condo building—nudged the assertion that second-hand smoke was a health hazard closer to being a matter of law.
Pros and Cons
In this atmosphere, it’s no wonder that some condo and co-op boards have tried with varying success to ban smoking, not only in the common areas but in individual units. Several years ago, the city of Belmont, California went so far as to pass a ordinance prohibiting smoking within the individual units of multi-unit residences—including condos—if the units share at least one common floor or ceiling with another unit.
There are plenty of people who would think that such tough anti-smoking rules are a violation of civil liberties, but there are many others who applaud such sweeping legislation. Michael Sielback, vice president of public policy and communications for the American Lung Association of New York, says, “The fact is that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. So why should someone’s neighbors be exposed to a substance that could make them sick, or sicker? No ventilation system, no towels under the door could make sure that smoke won’t get into our neighbor’s apartment. If this is a decision that building managers and co-op boards are willing to do, we support them.”
Still, taking the step of banning smoking within individual units is still fairly rare, according to real estate professionals. For example, attorney Kenneth Jacobs, a partner with the Manhattan-based law firm of Smith, Buss & Jacobs, says “We represent about 250 associations. Of those 250, maybe four have actually attempted to restrict smoking, and another four or five are contemplating it.”