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Queens Chronicle

Uphill battle for health activists

Advocates pushing smoking ban in co-ops and condos face opposition

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Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:58 am, Thu Mar 14, 2013.

A recent decision to ban smoking in two Hollis co-ops is sparking a heated debate between health activists and defenders of smokers’ rights.

Antismoking advocacy group Queens Smoke-Free Partnership helped administer a ban on indoor smoking at 200 units of the Hilltop Village co-op last week, intensifying talks over the role landlords and city officials should play in regulating household smoking.

Although the group helped assist a Jackson Heights apartment building convert 20 of its units into smoke-free residential facilities last April, most co-ops and condos throughout the borough have not adopted regulations against household smoking.

Antismoking activist Phil Konigsberg, vice president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said none of the 18 co-ops and condos in Bay Terrace have banned indoor smoking.

“It’s a tough battle to face but it’s a question of when, not if,” Konigsberg said. “Many [co-op and condo] board of directors aren’t smokers but they don’t want to be put into a position where they have to tell people what they can’t do.”

Konigsberg, who played a significant role in proposing the citywide ban of smoking in parks and beaches, has shifted his focus onto pushing housing facilities to go smoke-free, teaming up with several health advocacy groups.

He, along with several other members of the Queens Tobacco Control Coalition, attended a conference in Atlanta earlier this week hosted by the National Leadership Academy for the Public’s Health to garner support for his smoke-free co-op and condo initiative.

Konigsberg also said he is in talks with several other co-ops and condos throughout the borough, pitching the idea of smoke-free apartments that would lower the cost of homeowners insurance while increasing property value.

“It’s an uphill battle but time, education and open-mindedness will create more room for solving this public health issue,” said QSFP Borough Manager Yvette Buckner. “People were up in arms for a few months after the Mayor banned smoking in restaurants and bars and then it just became a social norm, so I think the same thing will happen now.”

According to the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, 60 percent of city residents prefer to live in a smoke-free home. The group also reported that in 2009, city fire marshals determined 556 fires were caused by household smoking, making it the third leading cause of fires that year.

However, many co-ops and condos remain hesitant to the idea of prohibiting smoking, citing the infringement of tenants’ liberties as the primary reason.

“You’d run into a lot of problems with people who are smokers and taking their rights away in their own home,” said Glen Oaks Village co-op President Bob Friedrich. “We deal with that issue the same way we deal with cooking odors and we’ve been pretty successful dealing with it that way.”

Bay Terrace Cooperative Section I President Warren Schreiber said he would enjoy a smoke-free housing facility as long as tenants vote on the decision themselves.

“One side claims that whenever you impose a ban on smoking you are taking away someone’s freedom and on the other side you’re taking away someone’s freedom to breathe fresh air,” Schreiber said. “We want tenants to determine their own path.”

The QSFP is in the process of reaching out to local elected officials for support.

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