The mayor’s latest attempt to curb smoking, now in apartment buildings, has garnered the support of antismoking activists in Queens.
Last week, the mayor introduced a bill that would require owners of residential buildings with three or more units to inform prospective tenants and purchasers whether smoking is allowed in apartments as well as on balconies, courtyards and rooftops.
“Smoking kills and people have the right to know if they are going to be exposed to secondhand smoke,” the mayor said in a prepared statement. “It won’t ban smoking in residential buildings, only ensure that New Yorkers can choose a smoke-free place to live.”
Yvette Jackson-Buckner, borough manager for Queens Smoke-Free Partnership, which is part of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, said the mayor’s plan is a step in the right direction “in giving New Yorkers, especially our Queens residents, an opportunity to make more informed choices. They can decide to live in an environment where they will not be routinely exposed to secondhand smoke.”
Of course, she would like to see a ban on smoking in apartment buildings and wants the city to take stronger action. “I am pleased and excited that this policy has been introduced,” she said, “and I see smoke-free housing as a natural next step to help protect families even more from the dangers of secondhand smoke.”
If enacted, the mayor’s plan would be similar to city disclosure policies on other issues such as the history of bed bugs or lead paint that landlords must provide to prospective dwellers. It is similar to laws that have been passed in Maine, Oregon and several municipalities across the country.
Dr. Thomas Farley, the city health commissioner, noted that secondhand smoke seeping into apartments from adjacent units can exacerbate asthma and increase the risk of heart disease and lung cancer.
According to the Mayor’s Office, more than 85 percent of adult New Yorkers do not smoke and less than 10 percent smoke inside their homes. However, in some buildings cigarette smoke can move quickly between apartments through cracks in walls, ceilings and floors, electrical outlets and under doors.
Phil Konigsberg, a Bay Terrace activist who was instrumental in getting the city to ban smoking in parks, beaches and public squares last year, applauds the initiative. “It’s a step in the right direction,” Konigsberg said. “I don’t know if the mayor would go for a no-smoking ban, but at least this measure starts them thinking about it.”
He has been fighting for nearly 25 years for limits on smoking, including the last five years trying to get two co-ops in his neighborhood to go smoke-free. “Aside from the health risks, I’m concerned when I go to bed about fire breaking out,” said Konigsberg, who suffers from breathing issues. “If the mayor’s plan is approved, it will be an incentive to make apartments more valuable.”
He thinks it’s just a matter of time before residential buildings become smoke-free. “There are already some co-ops in Manhattan that are,” he said. “It’s easier in new buildings, such as one that just opened on Lexington Avenue.”
Enforcement, he said, would have to be driven by complaints, and building managers would deal with recalcitrant residents.