Report: second-hand smoke hazardous in multi-unit buildings

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) is initiating a conversation about second-hand smoke in multi-unit dwellings in Wellington and Dufferin counties.

A new report, Second-hand tobacco smoke in multi-unit dwellings of social housing, addresses concerns of potential exposure to second-hand smoke from neighbouring units.

“The report speaks to many things … [including] the hazards of second hand smoke, and looks at what are the options, of which smoke-free multi-unit dwellings is the preferred option,” said Dr. Nicola Mercer, CEO and medical officer of health, at the Dec. 2 board meeting.

“We recognize that this is a conversation that we have with our partners who provide social housing and certainly on a complaint basis we work very collaboratively.”

Although Smoke-Free Ontario limits second-hand smoke in workplaces and public spaces, it doesn’t extend to  multi-unit dwellings.

“These are adding to the conversation and this is a report looking at the issue, looking at what were potential options and really providing information,” Mercer said. “So at this point we want to have that conversation, as opposed to telling the counties what to do.”

The report states it’s “practically impossible” to prevent smoke from seeping between units and into hallways through windows, doorways, light fixtures, electrical outlets, cracks and shared ventilation systems. The report says the only solution is creating policies to prohibit smoking in private units.

“I remember my daughter as a student was living in an apartment and she had to move her clothes out of the closet because the smoke from downstairs was coming up, like it was affecting her,” said board member Margaret Abbink.

“It is something that affects families with little children who might have smokers, heavy smokers upstairs or downstairs or next to them.”

Board member June Hofland said she was concerned the report marginalizes people who smoke.

“I worry that we can’t tell people that live in single family dwellings that they can’t smoke in their house, so I just wonder why we would be looking at people who live in multi-residential low-income housing,” she said.

Mercer responded saying, “We don’t say that they’re not allowed to smoke, and we’re not telling people to quit and we can’t tell people that they can’t rent there, but what we really are trying to point out is that smoking within the building, within your unit, doesn’t just impact you, it actually impacts your neighbours and others so the conversation is a very tricky one because ventilation can’t resolve this.”

The board forwarded the report to Wellington and Dufferin county councils.