Instilling a Fervent Wish for Smoke-free Housing – XXX
Stuart Kriesman is an endocronologist, a clinical assistant professor in the Division of Endocrinology at St. Paul’s Hospital and the University of British Columbia. He sees, first-hand, tobacco related diseases in his patients on a regular basis.
Dr. Kriesman and his wife also experience involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke in their apartment. He hosted a community discussion forum at St. Paul's in January 2011, where I was guest speaker. Dr. Kriesman related how secondhand smoke had always been an issue since he moved to Vancouver, beginning with the balcony and not being able to open the windows. Then, they began smelling smoke inside their apartments, and it became intolerable and unacceptable.
Dr. Kriesman stated, “Outside of work, we spend the most time in our homes, and it is the setting that remains virtually unprotected from involuntary exposure to second-hand smoke.”
Dr. Kriesman and his wife searched for a solution thoroughly, and discovered that although they were willing to pay considerably more for a non-smoking building, there was nothing available in Vancouver at any price. Familiar with the scope of the problem, Dr. Kriesman and his realtor wrote about it in the Vancouver Courier.
Dr. Kriesman has now written in the British Columbia Medical Journal, urging his colleagues “to ask your patients living in multi-unit dwellings whether they are being exposed to unwanted secondhand smoke and, if so, educate them on what steps they may take toward a remedy. They should no longer remain among the many currently suffering in silence.”
At the end of April, 2011, Lou moved for the fourth time in the same building because of smoking tenants, some who were in non-smoking units. No smoker has been asked to stop, take it outside, or been moved. The landlord did not rely on Residential Tenancy Act, and failed to invoke it's authority under Section 28 or 32.
The deciding factor in Lou being moved for the fourth time came about as a result of a powerful external factor.
Lou had diligently tried to find alternative and affordable housing. It became clear she was unable to, and that her health was affected to the point of being unable to work her part-time job. Friends, who were also a past employer, stepped in. They allowed her to stay at their place, and when their student suite became available April 20, she was to stay in the suite for the upcoming four months free, and continue her search for alternative accommodation.
This friend (and past employer) happens to be a fireman, well connected in the community.
By the end of April, Lou moved for the fourth time. Previous to this, her complaints were dismissed, under personal sensitivity and hysteria.
Moral of the story: Having a fireman as your trump card rules. Deciding factors and defining moments!
Shortly thereafter, the suite next to Lou's new home became vacant. The suite next to the vacant suite housed a smoker, and sustained water damage. Management decided to move the smoker into the vacated suite beside Lou. Oh, No!
The smoker thought she could continue smoking. Lou explained to the smoker tenant she could not smoke in the unit, and reported the matter to management. Management apologized: they did not know that this tenant smoked. Management maps of smokers showed this to false. The person was flagged as smoker.
Management, then, shifted the smoker to the non-smoking guest suite, and eventually placed a non-smoker beside Lou.
Imagine, I've lived in my suite for almost a decade, smoke free. Smoke-free housing is not something I have ever given much thought to. Then, a new neighbour moves in beside me - a smoker - and the smell and smoke infiltrates all of my living space.
I knock on their door, and tell them that their secondhand smoke contaminates the hallway, and all of your suite. It's unacceptable and intolerable. “Please,” I plead, “smoke outside away from the building.” “So sorry,” they respond, “OK, sure, I'll smoke outside.” Nothing changes. Nothing happens.
I went to the office, and explained to them what was happening, and how it was making me sick, and likely others too. We never had this problem.
The manager said, “There's nothing that can be done. If it bothers you so much, you will have to move.” I was shocked. I don't want to move. This is my home. I'm seventy year's old.
My daughter comes to visit for holidays. She says, “Mom, there is so much smoke in here, I cannot tolerate it. How can you? You must do something.” I explain to her how I have tried. She goes over to the smoking neighbour, and knocks on the door. No answer. She writes a note explaining the situation, and that it must stop. We hear nothing. We go to the office, and my daughter complains of the smoke and that nothing is being done. Management tells her that the building is not no-smoking. There is nothing in the lease. I never complained before. Nothing can be done. Tenants are not complaining, and so if it is a problem for me, I should move. We went to the community seniors' centre, and was told that we must file a claim against the owner.
My family does not live close enough to help me with this. I don't know how to do this on my own. I have bronchitis now, and my doctor tells me I should move. So I am doing my best to move. Everything is so much more expensive. I'm afraid I will not be able to move.
I live with my three children, who are under ten, and in low income housing. I received help to escape domestic violence, but there is no help to escape second-hand smoke. We did not choose to be here, and it's been a shock.
My neighbors are aware that their smoke is entering our unit, but refuse to compromise in any way. I have put forth a very workable solution, and feel that this issue can be resolved amicably. Still the smoking tenants insist that it is their right to smoke where ever, when ever, and as much as they would like, regardless of the fact that they are negatively impacting the health of my children.
I have contacted the Lung Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Non-smokers Rights Association, the BC Clean Air Coalition, and my local tobacco enforcement officer, to just name a few. They can do nothing but give me the same information and advice. But there is no help from them.
I sent my first letter to the board outlining how the smoke is entering my unit, which is seeping in though the cracks in the front door, bathroom vent(fan), baseboard heaters, and somehow from the bottom floor into my son's bedroom. There must be cracks in the floor. I stated that our clothes smell like smoke, as well as my car, and that the infiltration of smoke is ongoing. I enclosed, with my letter, articles that tell of the effects of secondhand smoke on children, as well as general information.
My mother visited this past summer, and emailed a letter concerning the smoke in the unit.
My landlord made it very clear that I am to accept the situation or move, and has gone so far as to call my written complaints harassment, and has threatened eviction as a result.
My children rely on me to protect their health, and keep them safe and I take this responsibility very seriously. I am prepared to follow through on this issue to the farthest extent.
I emailed the Ministry of Health. I told them my parents smoked since I was born. I didn't know it was bad, so I always played around it, till now. I try to stay away from it.
My little brother and I are pretty much sick every time we smell smoke. My parents don't seem to care. I'm very hurt every time I have friends over, and they can't breathe, or they feel sick later. I always smell like smoke when I go to school. I'm only 13. My brother is 10. We hide in our room because our parents are smoking all the time. We can't breathe in our own house, because we're dying inside. What can I do?
The Ministry responded with a link to a guide on smoke-free housing and the effects of secondhand smoke. They mentioned that it looked like I may know of this information, and that I should discuss this Health File with my parents.
They were very angry.
I own a small three-story apartment complex, and do the majority of my own building maintenance.
I hate, just absolutely hate, walking into the building, because it smells stale and dirty from tobaccos. Something had to be done. Something just had to be done. I couldn't stand it. It was making me mean.
I felt it reflected on me, on my building, on my sweat. Nothing I did had any lasting effect on cleaning it up. The answer didn't seem to be in shampooing carpets, painting walls, or setting up a smoking area outside. Advertising “no smoking” didn't seem to help in the long run, since non-smokers who once smoked often returned to smoking, and quitting.
I decided to investigate the idea of a ventilation system that would move the air through the building rapidly, or a higher setting than recommended or required, without the noise. Once the installation began, I posted an announcement to the tenants that the new and improved air flow would ensure that the lobby and hallways would smell fresher consistently, as would their apartments.
Then I began to slowly and purposefully slow, to do cleaning and redecorating in the building common areas and suites. First, I began to wash the ceilings. Now nobody washes ceilings and walls these days. But I wanted to show it was being done. Then, I painted.
This activity created a stir and led to rumors of rent increases. Some people moved out. Mostly the one's I'd rather see move along. I pointed out rents increase yearly. I joked, “My mother wants me to do spring cleaning.”
My real goal was to walk into the building and not smell the disgusting smell of tobacco, not have the litter of butts. And to keep it that way. If home is man's castle, then I want my castle to be treated like a castle, no matter how humble it is.