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More building owners are marketing their condos as smoke-free to attract buyers and tenants. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
More building owners are marketing their condos as smoke-free to attract buyers and tenants. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

The final frontier: smoking bans in apartments, condos Add to ...

Remember when restaurants had smoking sections? Or when going out to a bar inevitably meant coming home smelling like an ashtray, even if you never took a puff on a cigarette?

Thankfully, those days are long over. And so is the debate that banning smoking from bars and restaurants would kill the hospitality industry. In the past decade, smoking bans have gone even further: In many parts of Canada there’s no more lighting up on patios, in public parks, in cars with kids.

That means we’re approaching the final frontier in the hard-fought battle against exposure to second-hand smoke. But this next fight is going to be a doozy.

The private home is one of the last places where Canadians can indiscriminately light up a cigarette without risking breaking the law. And a growing number of people would like that to change. Specifically, people who live in apartments, condominiums and other multiunit dwellings where one person’s cigarette smoke can easily invade another person’s home.

Controversial, yes. But also an important, necessary move.

Those against the idea say it’s unfair for anyone to dictate what they can or cannot do in the privacy of their own home. If nowhere else, freedom should reign in the home.

But what about the freedom of non-smokers?

Second-hand smoke kills. It contains 70 carcinogens and kills 800 Canadians each year, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Not to mention the fact that it is linked to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, can harm pregnant women and children, can exacerbate symptoms of asthma and allergies and even do long-term harm to pets. Even if individuals aren’t exposed to highly concentrated levels of second-hand smoke, it can still take a significant toll on long-term health. Living in the same building as a smoker means that, like it or not, you will likely be exposed to second-hand smoke and will face increased health risks as a result.

So far, provincial and federal leaders have steered clear of the issue. In 2011, then-Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty declared that banning smoking in apartments would be too intrusive.

But that line of thinking is seriously outdated and antithetical to the desire of the majority of those living in multiunit buildings.

For instance, a 2013 survey conducted in British Columbia found that half of those apartment- and condo-dwellers reported being exposed to unwanted second-hand smoke in their homes. Two-thirds said they wanted a smoke-free environment and would support bylaws to that effect.

Even though there have been no province-wide directives yet, the move to rid condos, apartments, community housing and other residential buildings of cigarette smoke is gaining ground, slowly but surely, across Canada.

Earlier this month, the Windsor and Essex County Health Unit endorsed a resolution pushing landlords and managers of other multiunit buildings, including community housing, to go smoke-free. Last year, Ottawa Community Housing, which has more than 32,000 residents, officially went smoke-free. Across the country, individual buildings are increasingly introducing smoking bans and some condos are specifically marketing their smoke-free status to attract buyers and tenants. Elsewhere, jurisdictions in California, Australia and Germany are looking at bans or restrictions on smoking in apartments.

We’ve known for decades that smoking is a dangerous, deadly habit. No one is standing in the way of individuals who want to light up. But non-smokers, who make up the vast majority of the population, also have rights. And they should not be unwillingly exposed to second-hand smoke in the privacy of their own homes.

Looking at the current trend, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before smoking in an apartment building seems as antiquated as lighting up in an airplane or a hospital room. But which municipality or province will be brave enough to be among the first to make this change happen?

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Follow on Twitter: @carlyweeks

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