Second-hand smoke (also called environmental tobacco smoke or ETS) is a health risk for everyone, and particularly for children (who become very susceptible to developing asthma or respiratory infections when exposed to smoke) and the elderly. It’s within your power to quit smoking if you’re a smoker, choose to live with only non-smokers, and ask your guests to smoke outside if they must. But what if your neighbors are smokers? Even if they smoke outside, the smoke might migrate into your living space through cracks around doors or windows or in ventilation system, posing a threat to your health. So what rights do you have when it comes to protecting yourself against second-hand smoke? Read on for more information about the dangers of second-hand smoke and the ways you can protect yourself.
Understanding Second-Hand Smoke
Some people argue that second-hand smoke isn’t harmful, or suggest that smoking does much more harm to the smoker than to anyone else. However, research demonstrates that second-hand smoke actually has more tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide, ammonia, and cadmium than the smoke inhaled by smokers. Second-hand smoke also increases the risk of lung disease by 25% and the risk of heart disease by 10%. The estimate of deaths from diseases caused by second-hand smoke each year ranges from 30,000 to 70,000. Smoke unquestionably poses a serious threat to smokers and non-smokers alike.
Sometimes educating smokers about the negative effects their smoke can have on others is enough to change some behaviors—many smokers consider that they’re only harming themselves by smoking, and may be surprised to learn that second-hand smoke really can have dangerous effects. Second-hand smoke is not a concept that was invented to make smokers feel bad—it’s a serious detriment to health.
Talking with Smokers
If you approach your smoker neighbors to talk about the issue, do so with tact. They’ve likely been berated by friends, family members, and total strangers about their smoking in the past, and perhaps have even tried to quit. Taking an aggressive stance will only make the smoker less likely to cooperate with you.
Instead of screaming about the health risks of smoking and calling the smoker a murderer, simply express your genuine concern about your and your family’s health, and make a specific request for a behavior change. If the smoker is smoking indoors and the smoke is traveling to your apartment through air vents, request that the person smoke outside. If the individual is already smoking outdoors, but the smoke is seeping into your apartment through cracks around windows and doors, suggest moving the smoking location—from the balcony to the front door (or vice versa), if applicable, or ask the smoker to smoke in the courtyard, or a short distance from the door.
Making a specific request that the smoker can either agree to or deny helps the conversation progress, rather than reaching a stalemate. Come prepared with additional suggestions in case your neighbor doesn’t go for your first priority. You should also be ready to tell the smoker about other ways you might try to deal with the issue, including requesting that your apartment’s maintenance department install better air filters, seal any cracks that may be letting in smoke, improve the weather-stripping around doors and windows, and take other actions that my help out.
If the situation is dire and your neighbor is truly uncooperative, you may be able to sue your neighbor for damages. This is definitely a last resort, and such a step should only be taken after extensive efforts to work with your neighbor and landlord to improve the situation. If you have serious health issues related to smoke inhalation, you maybe protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which can help your case. (You should, of course, disclose this information to all parties involved before issuing the lawsuit.)
Talking with Landlords: Suggest a Smoke-Free Living Space
Smoke-free businesses are becoming more popular. Many bars and restaurants have outlawed smoking, much to the relief of people bothered by smoke allergies or concerned about the dangers of second-hand smoke. Businesses often see a rise in sales following their decision to go smoke-free.
Share this information with your landlord, and suggest making the apartment a smoke-free space. It’s likely to be nothing but a benefit to your landlord and the tenants, except for perhaps some die-hard smokers. A smoke-free guarantee makes the property more attractive to potential tenants and significantly reduces maintenance costs for the landlord—no more ripping up and replacing smoke-tainted carpets or cleaning and painting walls saturated with smoke. If your landlord doesn’t want to go completely smoke-free, perhaps making one of the buildings or floors (it may be best to choose the first floor, as smoke from lower floors tends to rise up and disturb people above) on the property smoke-free would be a good option for everyone involved.
The transition doesn’t have to be instant—that is, current tenants don’t have to be forced to stop smoking. Simply introduce a no-smoking clause into new leases. Eventually the complex will be smoke-free.
When Smoke-Free Isn’t an Option
If the concept of a smoke-free property isn’t appealing to your landlord, try to get repairs or improvements made that will increase your healthful enjoyment of your living space. Possible repairs include improved air filtration systems, better weather-stripping for doors and windows, and repair of cracks in walls, windows, doors, or filtration systems. Most landlords should be reasonably accommodating of such requests. If applicable, you may want to provide a note from your doctor documenting any health conditions you have that may be aggravated by the second-hand smoke, or any deterioration in your health that may have occurred due to second-hand smoke.
If your landlord is resistant to the idea of helping you improve your living conditions, and the smoke is a serious concern for you, it may be possible to break your lease and move to a smoke-free environment. You are legally entitled to a healthful living space, and second-hand smoke may pose a legitimate threat to your health. You’ll of course need to document your attempts to resolve the issue by sending certified letters to apartment management. If no efforts have been made after a reasonable amount of time, it may be necessary to start procedures for breaking your lease.
With a little effort, you may be able to resolve a smoking issue with ease. If that’s not possible, you can investigate the possibility of getting out of a housing situation where second-hand smoke poses a real danger. Investigate all the possibilities, and then take the best action for your situation.