Smoking bans have a long history in the United States. Although there are no national smoking bans, numerous states, cities and counties have enacted prohibitions on smoking in public areas. Minnesota’s Clean Indoor Air Act of 1975 was the first state-wide ban on smoking in public places.
Recently passed anti-smoking legislation in California will attempt to give landlords and property owners the right to ban smoking in their rental units. The apartment smoking ban has drawn criticism from civil liberties organizations and praise from public health advocates. Citizens of California who are concerned about their indoor air quality are anxious to know how the bill’s passage will help protect them from second-hand smoke.
The apartment smoking ban bill, SB 332, passed through the California legislature on 15 August, 2011, and awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature to be passed into law. California state senator Alex Padilla wrote the bill and has been its biggest advocate. According to Padilla, families in California need to have more options when it comes to smoke-free rental housing. The bill was designed to insure that apartment dwellers are not subject to second-hand smoke from other residents who live above or below them. Smoke can travel through air ducts, shared ventilation systems, crawl spaces, doors, and windows. This creates a harmful situation for renters who live in units that share walls with smokers.
The health effects of second hand smoke are well documented. According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, secondhand smoke (otherwise known as passive smoke, environmental tobacco smoke, or involuntary smoke) contains 69 different kinds of toxic, cancer-causing chemicals. Some of the chemicals in secondhand smoke that are known to cause cancer include: arsenic, benzene, beryllium, 1,3–butadiene, cadmium, chromium, ethylene oxide, nickel, polonium-210, and vinyl chloride. Some of the chemicals that are suspected to cause cancer include: formaldehyde, benzoαpyrene, and toluene.
Approximately 3,000 non-smokers will die this year from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke. Another 46,000 will die from heart diseases caused by secondhand smoke. Living with someone who smokes can increase your risk of heart disease by approximately 30%. Secondhand smoke has also been linked to sudden infant death syndrome, asthma attacks, bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, and colds. Considering the dire consequences of sharing the air with smokers, it’s no wonder why the citizens of California are trying to create smoke-free rental properties.
The city of Belmont, California put a residential rental unit smoking ban on the books in 2009. It prohibited smoking in apartments or any rental unit with a shared roof or ceiling. Other kinds of bans have existed for years in public spaces. Take for instance the hotel and dining industry. For decades restaurants have had non-smoking sections and hotels have implemented strict no-smoking policies for all or some of their rooms, complete with high priced penalties for breaking the rules. The new apartment smoking ban in California would target activity performed in a private residence, however, which has caused extensive debate. Public health advocates say this measure will have a beneficial effect on the state’s renters by decreasing their exposure to secondhand smoke.
While the smoking ban in apartments might save some renters from having to deal with the disastrous influence of secondhand smoke, others will not be so lucky. Some landlords will still allow smoking in their buildings, and some renters are currently living in apartments that have been occupied continually by smokers. When smoke saturates a building, it can remain a health hazard long after the smoker is gone.
How can you tell if you are living in an apartment with clean indoor air? One of the best ways to make certain that you and your family are living in a smoke-free apartment is to get a professional industrial hygienist or indoor air quality technician to test the air for harmful chemicals. Many companies specializing in indoor air restoration will be able to test for tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke, methamphetamine, and other drugs that may be present in a building. Without proper testing by a trained, certified inspector, there is no sure-fire way to know that you aren’t breathing harmful contaminants from the air.
Besides tobacco smoke, the list of pollutants that might be found in the common rental unit is extensive. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dust mites, and asbestos fibers that are present in the air could make your family sick. The most common health effects associated with indoor air contaminants are respiratory problems, such as wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks, allergies and flu-like symptoms. Long-terms health problems can also develop, so it’s best to get your indoor air tested before you are exposed to something dangerous. Even though measures are being taken to remove the risk of secondhand smoke exposure in apartments, you should not wait for laws to protect you and your loved ones. You can be proactive in addressing your air quality concerns by contacting a local indoor environmental services company.