Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Personal Look at Secondhand Smoke in Multifamily Housing

[ Email to the White Plains Common Council and the media on March 7, 2009. ]

A month ago, I wrote asking you to ban smoking in multifamily housing in White Plains.

Today I would like to personify the problem with a recent letter.

The author is an elementary school teacher, dedicated to her students, and involved in the community. Your children or grandchildren are probably in her classes.

February 23, 2009

To Bryant Gardens Board Members,

I am writing with great concern about the second hand smoke infiltrating my apartment (Building XX Apt. XX) and its effects on my health. The smell of cigarette smoke in my apartment can be quite overwhelming at times. It is permeating my personal belongings and causing headaches and stomach aches. I’ve been forced to open windows or light scented candles to diffuse the smell.

I am fairly certain that the smoke is coming from the apartment below me, Apt. XX, as the smell of smoke is worse inside my apartment than it is in the hallway. Should you contact Ms. Xxxxx in Apt. XX, I’d appreciate it if you would not use my name specifically.

I thoroughly enjoy living at Bryant Gardens, however, it deeply saddens me that my health is being compromised by living here. Any support you can offer would be greatly appreciated. If you need to get in touch with me, I’d be happy to speak with you. My cell phone number is 914-XXX-XXXX.


Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxxxx

The writer, a single woman in her thirties, has only herself to worry about. Two doors down, another teacher is eight months pregnant and worries both about four year old Xxxxxxxx and the child on the way. She should. The downstairs smoker isn't the only one in the building.

The Board is concerned, too, but limited technologically and legally.

We can't get rid of the secondhand smoke.
We know that current air conditioning and ventilating systems can't control secondhand smoke (see attached), and while air cleaning systems remove the large, odor-causing particles, they miss the myriad smaller carcinogens.

We can't get rid of the smokers.
Residents are obligated by the proprietary lease and the House Rules to keep smoke from escaping into the building, but if they don't respond to letters, fines, and notices to cure, there is little chance of obtaining relief in the courts at present.

It's up to you.
Our hands are tied. It's up to you, the Common Council, to enact legislation to ban smoking in multifamily housing. There are literally thousands of non-smoking White Plains apartment dwellers sick and dying for relief.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Let's Ban Smoking in Multifamily Housing

[ Email to the White Plains Common Council and the media on February 3, 2009. ]
I am writing to ask the Common Council to ban smoking in multifamily housing in White Plains.

The hundreds of thousands who work in our City each day are protected by a ban on smoking in the workplace. But our residents, most of whom live in multifamily housing and don't smoke themselves, must take their chances with secondhand smoke and fires caused by smoking.

Smoking Diseases
Smoking (tobacco-related disease) is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S., killing over 440,000, including 38,000 non-smokers felled by lung cancer or heart disease attributable to secondhand smoke.

Secondhand Smoke
The Surgeon General says, and the courts have recognized, there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • In fact, just 5 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke constricts your aorta as much as if you'd actually smoked a cigarette, reducing arterial function, and making your heart work harder. The effects are far worse for longer exposure.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency classifies secondhand smoke as a Class A carcinogen, the most dangerous class.
  • There are no ventilation systems capable of removing secondhand smoke from indoor air. Mechanical, chemical, and electronic filters and cleaners simply don't work.

Secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous to the unborn, the young, and the elderly, who are least able to recognize and escape a dangerous environment.

Smoking Fires
Smoking is also a leading cause of residential fires in the United States, and the leading cause of preventable fire fatalities, injuries, and damages, estimated at more than $400 million annually.

Choices and Rights
There is no Constitutional right to smoke. But everyone has the right to live in a safe, habitable environment.

If you live in a single-family home, how you deal with indoor smoking is up to you. But for most White Plains residents, it's up to the landlord.

A Better Way
But there is an alternative. White Plains, like the city of Belmont in California, could ban smoking in multifamily housing.

I urge you to review the Belmont ordinance regulating secondhand smoke (attached) and adopt a similar ordinance to protect the majority of White Plains citizens.