Are building-wide smoking bans “immoral”?

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By Teri Karush Rogers  |
June 23, 2010 - 6:42AM
smoking at home.jpg

With the number of New York City smokers dwindling to around 16%, talk of a coming wave of smoking bans inside private apartments continues to swirl.

This week the New England Journal of Medicine raised the ante by urging the government to ban all smoking in  housing projects. That followed a statement late last year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development “strongly” encouraging the country’s 3,200 public housing authorities to implement smoking bans.

Where does all this leave private apartment buildings?

As we’ve concluded before, building-wide smoking bans in private apartment buildings are legally defensible if instituted the right way—but are they moral? Is it okay to regulate the perfectly legal behavior of people inside their own home? 

Noting the Surgeon General’s 2006 finding that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke, a lengthy article in this month’s Cooperator answers the ethical question with a quote:

“A smoker’s rights stops at their neighbor’s nose,” says Christopher Banthin, the director and senior staff attorney for the non-profit Public Health Advocacy Institute. “Do I morally have the right to inflict health problems on my neighbor?”

(Or to immolate them: Smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths in apartment buildings, accounting for a quarter of all fire-related deaths in 2005, notes the Cooperator.)

Banthin predicts 80% of the country’s apartment buildings will eventually go smokeless, in line with the percentage of American adults who don’t smoke.

So far, rental buildings are leading the reform nationally.

“It’s a virtual tidal wave,” Jim Bergman of the Smoke-Free Environments Law Project tells the Cooperator. “At this point we are seeing substantial numbers of rental units going smoke free on a daily basis.”

Condos, Bergman says, are reacting more slowly, over fears about the impact on resale values.

Smoking ban proponents argue that worry is misplaced.

A 2008 survey by the Public Health Advocacy Institute found that 81% of condo buyers are less interested in buying if they smell tobacco smoke, reports the Cooperator.  And 43 percent of 1,500 people surveyed said they would pay more to live in a smoke free building.

“Virtually every survey done has shown that there has been a positive or neutral effect when an apartment or condominium has gone smoke free,” Bergman is quoted as saying.  “No research has shown a negative impact.”

Related posts:

Tipping point at hand for smoke bans in NYC co-ops and condos

Major NYC landlord bans smoking 

Tribeca secondhand smoke suit against neighbor upheld


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Teri Karush Rogers

Founder & Publisher

Founder and publisher Teri Karush Rogers launched Brick Underground in 2009. As a freelance journalist, she had previously covered New York City real estate for The New York Times. Teri has been featured as an expert on New York City residential real estate by The New York Times, New York Daily News, amNew York, NBC Nightly News, The Real Deal, Business Insider, the Huffington Post, and NY1 News, among others. Teri earned a BA in journalism and a law degree from New York University.

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