Closing the last loopholes

Think a man's home is his castle? Think again.

Thanks to the relentless efforts of the anti-smoking bureaucracy, Americans are losing one of the last vestiges of privacy -- the right to smoke in their own homes:

A year ago last month, the [Seattle] voter-approved Initiative 901 took effect. It prohibits smoking in work settings and public places -- from offices to bowling alleys -- and within 25 feet of their front doors, or a "reasonable" distance, to keep smoke from wafting indoors.

Compliance has gone well, according to the health department. The first month, the department received 168 complaints and found 16 violations. A year later, the numbers were down last month to 18 complaints, with the department finding just one violation.

"When you think of the thousands of businesses in King County, everyone did what they were supposed to do," Valdez said. "What we've heard now is about people smoking in condos and apartment units."

While the state ban prohibits smoking in the common areas of private apartment buildings, such as hallways, community rooms and libraries, residents may smoke inside their units unless the landlord prohibits it.

But smoke from one unit can seep through ventilation shafts and doorways into other units, and the ban has emboldened some nonsmoking tenants to complain about that to their landlords.

"Some landlords are dealing with the issue by banning smoking entirely in their buildings to avoid being stuck in the middle," said Seattle attorney Chris Benis, who advises landlords for the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound.

As of yet there's no legislation to prohibit smoking inside one's home. But the foot in the door seems to be public housing:
Perhaps nowhere is the issue more controversial than in public housing, where many residents -- smokers and nonsmokers alike -- have few housing options.

"You have some people who say, 'My apartment is my castle. I should be able to smoke whenever I want,' and other people say, 'Yeah, but your smoke is helping to kill me,' " said Terry McLlarky, a resident of Casa Juanita apartments in Kirkland, which is operated by the King County Housing Authority.

McLlarky, who smoked for 40 years before quitting in 2002, is serving on a residents committee that advises the authority on their concerns. Even before the smoking ban went into effect, smoking was not allowed in the common areas of public housing.

Smoking indoors is of course being seen as a public safety issue:
Indoor smoking comes with a higher risk of fires, litter and increased maintenance costs when smokers move out, authority spokeswoman Rhonda Rosenberg said.
No doubt insurance companies will weigh in (if they haven't already) with statistics showing smokers are more likely to start fires. As if that's a risk of tobacco. (Might as well say that electrical appliances start fires. Of course, we all know that guns cause shootings.)

And then there are the inevitable lawsuits which will be filed against landlords by non-smoking tenants (supported by anti-smoking groups). I'm glad I'm not a landlord -- especially in Berkeley, where you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. Writes a Berkeley landlord in an email:

Second hand cigarette smoke has been classified as a Class A carcinogen, so tenants can sue their landlords for "exposing" them to the tobacco smoke drifting in their doors and windows from other apartments in the building. But what can a Berkeley landlord do about that? The Berkeley eviction control law says that there are "9 just causes" for an eviction, and smoking in your own apartment isn't one of them. Smokers know this, and they know that a threat from the landlord to evict them unless they stop smoking or to at least close their doors and windows is unenforceable. So what is a landlord supposed to do? He can be sued by his non-smoking tenants unless he gets rid of the smoking tenants, but he can't get rid of them because of eviction controls. I think your readers might like to ponder this problem!
Pondering the problem will not make it go away, though.

Smoking is becoming an endangered, soon-to-be-extinguished freedom. And not just for tenants. Parents can in theory be sued by their children for exposing them to smoke, and I can easily imagine laws in the near future prohibiting parents from smoking in homes with children.

At some point (and I am not sure when) we will be looking at genuine prohibition, or something very close to it.

When I was kid, even non-smoking homes had cigarettes for the guests. Airlines handed out free cigarettes to passengers (and little boxes of candy cigarettes for kids).

I don't know how I ever survived.

But remember: no matter how bad it gets, there's still a right to keep and bear cigarettes.

(If you're fed up with anti-smoking activists, that last link details other ways to annoy them short of actually smoking.)

MORE: I haphazardly designed a cigarette freedom lover's package appropriate for waving in bureaucrats' faces.

Here you go:


But will it sell?

Would it be legal to market it as a charity brand?

posted by Eric on 01.16.07 at 03:50 PM


I currently live in this very situation. I live in an somewhat older condominium (built in the 70s) and my neighbor next door has to smoke at least 3 packs a day. He is a recluse and rarely leaves his house and some of that smoke inevitably finds it way into my place. Sometimes my eyes water from it.

I detest the stench of it in my home that I own (Im not a renter). But who am I to tell him what he can and cant do in his? I've asked him to cut down and he seemed willing to try to be accomodating but the result has been no change.

Having said that though, I'm totally against laws dictating this sort of thing. The last thing people need is more nanny statism.

Its a bit of a quandary. Does his right to smoke in his house outwiegh mine to have it smoke free? I dont know really. I guess the best way to resolve it is the old fashioned way: Attempt to come to an amicable agree. If that fails then fisticuffs!

Mick   ·  January 16, 2007 10:37 PM

Ahh, the Soviet Duck. Nice to see it again after all these years.

Jon Thompson   ·  January 18, 2007 12:06 PM

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