Phil Konigsberg, a Bay Terrace activist, has been fighting for smoke-free causes for nearly 25 years and now hopes to widen smoking bans throughout the city to potentially include all multi-family residences, condos and co-ops citywide.
“I know several people who have died, who were heavy smokers,” Konigsberg said. “If someone is walking heavily above you, it’s not going to kill you. But if you are constantly getting smoke into your apartment, it’s definitely a health problem.”
Konigsberg suffers from breathing issues and attests to how secondhand smoke affects one’s quality of life.
“[Secondhand smoke] goes under apartment doors, into hallways, common areas, air vents, electrical sockets,” Konigsberg notes, adding that smoking indoors “is perfectly OK if it’s an unattached residence, but when you live in an apartment, what you do affects other people.”
The smoke-free housing resolution bill he is proposing would have to be filed by a council member with the council speaker’s office to be introduced during a stated meeting and presented to an appropriate committee. Then it would have to be presented to one or more public committee hearings for testimony and debate. The bill may be amended, and then finally voted on by the committee.
If passed, it’s then sent to the full council for further debate and a final vote. If it has the support of at least 26 council members, it’s sent to Mayor Bloomberg, who will also hold a public hearing where he will choose to veto the bill or sign it into law.
Konigsberg hopes to officially submit his resolution to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn soon. It includes information on the harmful effects of secondhand smoke to humans inside buildings.
Yvette Jackson-Buckner, borough manager for Queens Smoke-Free Partnership, of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, is championing for this cause as well. The coalition is working with community groups, elected officials and key leaders to raise awareness about the harmful side effects of smoking in living areas.
“The U.S. surgeon general has reported that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke and thousands of Queens residents are exposed to it each day in their homes,” Jackson-Buckner said.
“Queens is a rare borough in that it has a high concentration of immigrant communities. Unfortunately, many of these communities tend to have higher smoking rates …” she added.
During the last five years, Konigsberg has also been fighting to make two co-ops in his neighborhood smoke-free, one where he resides, after it received numerous complaints from residents, who voiced concerns with how the 50-year-old building isn’t equipped to handle smoke that seeps through unsealed spaces.
The QSFP has offered support to Konigsberg in helping his co-op go smoke-free, and recently presented to his board the benefits of choosing this course of action. He knows this would be a controversial move, even though research has shown the overwhelming support for this proposition — 66 percent of New Yorkers are interested in living in residences that are entirely smoke-free.
To date, the boards for both co-ops have not agreed to pass the residential smoke free-ban, but building shareholders have been asked to take measures to lessen smoking side effects caused to others.
“We request that [residents] get air-filters to do what they can to not cause this problem for others,” Konigsberg said, adding that no air-filter product documentation can prove the elimination of secondhand smoke entirely.
“I don’t expect this to be healed overnight. This will probably be rougher than the ban for restaurants, bars and parks. In my mind, there really isn’t any difference,” Konigsberg said, while remaining hopeful that smoke-free living can become a reality.
“If it’s passed, I’m confident that Mayor Bloomberg would sign it,” he added.
Konigsberg, who is first vice president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance and a member of Community Board 7, was also active in having the city change its policy about smoking in parks. After the mayor dropped his opposition to the plan, smoking was banned last year in city parks as well as at public squares and beaches.
Queens residents interested in getting involved on the subject can go to the website nycsmokefree.org/queens for more information.