Demand for smoke-free housing on the rise in Metro Vancouver


Currently, it's nearly impossible to find smoke-free dwellings in Vancouver.

Nonsmoking multi-unit dwellings are next to impossible to find


By Carlito Pablo,

California’s Sonoma County is going to be the envy of Lower Mainland residents who have to put up with the secondhand smoke of their neighbours.

Starting on May 10 next year, all new multi-unit residences in the county will be smoke-free. Then, as of January 12, 2013, the ban will extend to all existing multiple-dwelling units like apartments and condos.

While Sonoma’s smoking prohibition may appear to be too ambitious for Canadian jurisdictions, a more modest approach could work.

Vision Vancouver’s Tim Stevenson is open to the idea that future multi-unit premises should be completely smoke-free.

“Even the people who smoke say if they try to live together, it’s so much smoke, they’re practically choking to death on each other’s smoke,” Stevenson said in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight.

However, the four-term councillor also noted that he’s concerned about how this measure would impact a certain sector of the city’s population. Having served on the board of the First United Church, he has seen how cigarettes are important to many Downtown Eastside residents dealing with addictions and mental illness.

“To ask them not to smoke or tell them they can’t smoke, they would be faced with the choice of not having living space or being out on the street—or trying to lie,” Stevenson said. “And the problem that that gets into is other residents in the building who don’t smoke report them, and then you get conflict.”

But, outside the Downtown Eastside, Stevenson sees no problem with having new smoke-free residential buildings. According to him, the city doesn’t have a smoking ban in its housing properties.

The proposal of putting in smoking bans in future buildings in Canadian municipalities was among the recommendations made by UBC endocrinologist Stuart Kreisman.

Writing in the October issue of the B.C. Medical Journal, the St. Paul’s Hospital doctor stated that this will help meet the demand for smoke-free homes.

When he was living on the top floor of a condo building in downtown Vancouver, Kreisman had to endure the secondhand smoke wafting up from units below him. He later asked to be transferred to the bottom floor.

“It’s justifiable,” Kreisman told the Straight by phone regarding smoke-free multi-unit dwellings. “You’re not allowed to blast music at 3 a.m. Why are you allowed to put smoke into your neighbour’s home?”

In his BCMJ article “Toward smoke-free multi-unit dwellings”, Kreisman also suggested other measured steps. One is to designate a contiguous portion of existing buildings as smoke-free. Another is to amend the Residential Tenancy Act to tag secondhand smoke as a nuisance, and a violation of the “right to quiet enjoyment”.

Kreisman also proposed that landlords state in leases the smoking status of floors and units in their buildings. He likewise recommended that strata councils and rental-building owners be given incentives to convert their properties into nonsmoking premises.

Despite the demand for smoke-free dwellings, Kreisman said that it is close to impossible to find one in the Greater Vancouver area. Only the Envy and Verdant condominiums in North Vancouver and Burnaby, respectively, are known to have antismoking strata bylaws.

In 2007, Metro Vancouver designated a section of Heather Place, one of its public housing properties, as a no-smoking area. It was supposed to be a pilot project that would be replicated in its other housing buildings. The regional body did not make a spokesperson available to provide an update on this initiative before the Straight’s deadline.

New Westminster councillor Bill Harper anticipates a number of issues arising if smoking is prohibited in multi-unit buildings. One, according to him, is the mobility challenges of many seniors who are smokers.

Harper also told the Straight by phone that he wants to see more of the research into the effects of secondhand smoke, information that Kreisman may perhaps be more than willing to share.


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