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Secondhand Smoke Filters Through Apartment Buildings

By HERWriter Guide
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secondhand smoke in French apartment buildings Hemera/Thinkstock

I happened to mention recently that smoking in France really affects apartment buildings, especially since so many are above restaurants and cafes -- and there is almost always an outdoor space for eating, generally in front of the cafe itself.

A couple of French people came down hard on me, informing me that smoking in restaurants and other public buildings is banned and to "stop living in the 80s!"

I'm not sure what the last part meant (were they calling me old or out of touch?!) but I am aware of the public bans.

What they seemed to be unaware of was that when we are lucky enough to visit France, we choose to stay in apartments or lofts, instead of hotels. It's half the cost and twice the fun.

Last year we had a beautiful home built in the 1600s in the heart of an ancient harbor town. Naturally we flung all the windows open every to watch the water, the people and to breathe in the delicious scents of bakeries, outdoor food markets, cafes.

But unfortunately, what permeated our senses the most was the cigarette smoke -- so much so that we had to keep the windows on the second floor closed for half the day, as it filtered in so badly that even our kids made comments.

While people have the right to smoke, it made me wonder about how people living in these kinds of apartments deal with this all the time.

Do they care? Do they even notice?

It turns out that they do -- a lot, especially in the United States, a country that is admittedly far more anti-smoking than many others. A new study, led by Dr. Karen Wilson, the section head of pediatric hospital medicine at Children's Hospital Colorado, and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, saw that concern over secondhand smoke filtering into the homes of non-smokers is a big problem.

The study asked a total of 323 respondents (who were part of a larger study done in 2011) who lived in apartment buildings if secondhand smoke was an issue for them.

The participants had been living in smoke-free homes for at least three months. One-third of them replied that secondhand smoke was indeed affecting their homes, with 38 percent saying they were affected at least once a week and 12 percent saying that they were affected on a daily basis.

Among apartment dwellers without children, 60 percent reported smoke entering their homes, with 34 percent of residents with kids saying they felt the effect of the smoke. It was the opposite in common areas -- families were more likely to smell smoke than those without children.

As said by Dr. Wilson, these results show that a general ban on smoking in apartment buildings is far better than a partial ban when it comes to avoiding the pitfalls of secondhand smoke. A partial ban generally means smoking is allowed in apartment units but not in common areas.

She believes that residents should talk to their landlords about smoking rules and ask that they consider full bans, if they are not already in place.

Secondhand smoke can cause a significant impact on health. According to EmpowHER's Elizabeth Smoots, MD, in her article about the effects of secondhand smoke, it contains more than 200 poisons, some with carcinogenic (cancer causing) effects.

She said, "In the US, secondhand smoke causes an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. (By comparison, active cigarette smoking leads to over 161,840 lung cancer deaths yearly.) The Agency classifies ETS as a Group A carcinogen—a category reserved only for the most dangerous cancer-causing agents in humans."

Smoking causes other cancers including throat, mouth, cervix, stomach and kidney and also causes respiratory illnesses like bronchitis, and can trigger asthma attacks. Smoking is also a cause of heart disease.

Anti-smoking groups believe the evidence showing the dangers of secondhand smoking is clear enough to enforce general and full bans in apartment/condo buildings.

Tell Us
Do you live in an apartment or condo dwelling where secondhand smoke is an issue? Do you think there should be a full ban on smoking in these buildings or does this infringe on the rights of smokers?


Health.com via Yahoo News. Secondhand Smoke Permeates Many Apartment Buildings: Study. Web. Sunday, April 29, 2012. http://news.yahoo.com/secondhand-smoke-permeates-many-apartment-building...

EmpowHER.com. Dangers of Secondhand Smoke by Elizabeth Smoots, MD. Web. Sunday, April 29, 2012.

Reviewed May 1, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment3 Comments

It's not the smoke that gets into other apartments, just the smell. You may not like the smell but it's not actual smoke. The smoke has dissipated before it can think about reaching another apartment. You would need to be in the smokers' apartment to claim any real ill effects from "secondhand smoke". Makes me wonder why all us baby boomers are still alive, healthy and kicking IF SHS is as deadly as everyone is claiming. Listening to the dogma these days would mean everyone born before 1980 should already be dead or near death, given the shs we were all exposed to from birth. And unlike carbon monoxide - which CAN/WILL kill you - at least you can smell shs and do something about it.

June 7, 2012 - 10:48am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Lynda F)

I am so sorry to disagree with you. I would like you to share where you get the idea that only the smell reaches the other apartments and not the smoke... what do you think is carrying that smell into the adjoining apartments? I have not smoked now for more than twelve years. During these twelve years, I haven't lived near a smoker. I moved last year without thinking about the exposure, and then about six months ago a heavy smoker moved below me. My first symptom was my cough and the mucus that was continually present in my lungs. I suddenly started suffering from sinus infections, one so bad that I ended up in the emergency room. I had no idea what was happening and neither did my doctor. I have also suffered from two colds that I had trouble shaking. One evening I noticed that my nose and eyes were stinging and my lungs felt like they were being squeezed and I had horrible wheezing. I was confused, but I realized that I could taste cigarette smoke in my mouth. It was then after these symptoms that it dawned on me that the man downstairs and his ever-present company were smoking so heavily that I was being effected.

I went to notify him of my concerns and his apartment was so full of smoke I couldn't see a foot inside the door. To see if my assumptions were correct I got on the internet, spoke to my pharmacist and doctor and all agreed that I had to take immediate action. I contacted my landlord and he notified the man who refused to do anything because it wasn't on the lease. Well, there was something on the lease and that was the fact he agreed to not impose on his neighbor. It was justification to eject him.

The mucus in my lungs is now brown.... I am currently suffering from asthma and constant cold-like symptoms with severe headaches. I am reacting not necessarily to the smoke, but the poisons that are seeping into my apartment. I know when he is home by my body's reaction to his filthy habit. I have a very expensive wooden, floor modal of air freshener that goes 7/24.

He is moving tomorrow and my apartment building is now designated as smoke free. I will never, ever live in an apartment building where smoking is allowed. My sorrow is that it took me nearly four months smoke exposure to realize what was happening to me and another two months until he left. I am seriously worried if this damage is permanent. No one has the right to expose other people to the horrible effects of their habits.

January 2, 2013 - 12:02pm
EmpowHER Guest

Prohibiting smoking in all multi-family dwellings is very overdue. The scientific evidence over the past 50+ years shows again and again there is no way to keep it in the units of the smokers so it harms all those (via secondhand smoke impact) who live adjacent, under and over the smoker's unit. We along with many other residents experience this problem in our Maryland co-op. Smoking is a deadly and costly habit for society, not just the smokers. It's criminal that deep-pocketed Big Tobacco has so much control over politicians and building managers worldwide to keep this dangerous substance on the market. It has no upside except for those working in the tobacco industry and for the politicians who vote to keep this harmful industry very profitable.

May 3, 2012 - 12:49pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.