Medical Moment: Landlords' movement to ban smoking

Secondhand smoke can seep through walls of shared housing like apartments and condos and still cause damage to people’s lungs. Some 30 million people suffer from secondhand smoke, and officials say it is because of their proximity to smoking neighbors. Now, some landlords are turning to a new movement to prevent the spread of secondhand smoke.

"I never smoked in my life. I never even touched a cigarette,” says Beatrice.

But Beatrice has COPD and nodules on her lungs from inhaling someone else’s cigarette smoke. Like her, anyone living in an apartment building near a neighbor who smokes is also at risk.

According to Dr. Andrew Hyland, a research scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, "You're looking at an estimate of anywhere between 40 and 60,000 deaths per year attributable to second-hand smoke."

The number of secondhand smoke-related deaths is more than all fatal car crashes each year.

And as Dr. Hyland says, "It's not a good thing... It's not a good thing."

Twenty-eight states have already banned smoking in public places but smoking gin apartments is legal. Now property owners like Pam Berger are adopting smoke-free policies.

"Why, just because you have limited choices and limited income, should you be almost forced to live in an unhealthy environment?" says Berger, the VP for Property Operations of Belmont Housing Resources for Western New York.

Berger and other landlords recognize that smoke can easily travel through vents and cracks underneath doorways.

Berger says, "We just wanted to provide everybody with a healthier environment."

Jenna Brinkworth educates landlords on how to make the switch to smoke-free rules, she works at the Erie-Niagra Tobacco-Free Coalition at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York.

According to Brinkworth, "This is a growing trend across the country. Many landlords are becoming more aware that it's something they can legally do.”

Smoke-free policies have increased 1,300-percent over the last six years and tenants are thankful for the changes.

Madeline suffers from asthma thanks to secondhand smoke exposure, and like Beatrice, she now lives in a smoke-free complex for her health.

"I don't want to get any worse. I wanna see my grandkids ... I wanna see my grandkids get married,” she says.

Smokers are not a protected class of tenants, which means landlords can legally change their smoking policy at any time. The benefits seem to go beyond the health of their tenants.

Since Pam Berger’s building went smoke free, her complex has seen fewer vacant apartments overall.

SECONDHAND SMOKE: Secondhand smoke can come from either sidestream smoke or mainstream smoke. Sidestream smoke comes from the lighted end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe and is worse for people's health because the concentration of carcinogens is higher than in mainstream smoke and the small particles allow the smoke to enter the body easily. Mainstream smoke is what is exhaled by someone who is smoking. Both forms of secondhand smoke can be detrimental to non-smokers health because nicotine and toxic chemicals are being inhaled. Over 250 of the 7,000 chemical compounds in tobacco smoke are known to be harmful and 69 of those chemicals are known to cause cancer. Non-smokers can be exposed to secondhand smoke in public places such as the street or a bar, at work, or at home. Unfortunately children are more often exposed to secondhand smoke than adults, probably due to parents or guardians who smoke at home or in the car with their kids.

CONSEQUENCES: Secondhand smoke has been linked to several health problems and is known to exacerbate other conditions as well. Here are some consequences of secondhand smoke exposure:
- Lung cancer
- Increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections and more severe and frequent asthma attacks in babies and children.
- Immediate harmful effects to the heart, blood vessels, and blood circulation which can eventually lead to strokes, heart disease, and heart attacks. (Source:

SMOKE-FREE POLICIES: Smoke-free policies aimed at creating smoke-free environments at restaurants, work sites, and bars have become increasingly popular in the past two decades. The motivations behind state smoke-free laws were better air quality indoors, to protect non-smokers from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, to help smokers quit, and to change social norms about smoking. Although only 26 states currently have comprehensive smoke-free laws in affect, other states such as many of the southern states have communities which do have local smoke-free laws. There continues to be a push to make all 50 states in the United States enact smoke-free laws in the future. (

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