Where there's smoke, there’s fire: Arguments ignite over banning smoking in B.C.’s multi-unit buildings
The Province
By: Bethany Lidsay
13 June 2016

Shawn Anderson is the strata president at Hycroft Towers in Vancouver, BC. The building has a 100-per-cent non-smoking policy for residents.
Photograph by: Jason Payne , Vancouver Sun

Paul Aradi began smoking half a century ago and had become accustomed to enjoying a cigarette in his Langley condo. That is, until his strata council banned the practice in 2009.

“They’re harassing me all the time and bullying,” the 71-year-old veteran said of the ban.

“I’m not interfering with everybody’s life, so why do people have a right to interfere in my life? Because they get more pollution when they walk in the street or whatever.”

Aradi, who served as a peacekeeper in Cyprus, refused to give up smoking inside and eventually racked up $2,300 in fines. He’s filed a complaint about the ban with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, but earlier this year, a judge ordered Aradi to comply with the bylaw and smoke outside the building.

Aradi’s waiting for triple bypass surgery, and says the walk outside to the street is too difficult for him, so he’s been forced to give up cigarettes instead.

In the meantime, health advocates are hoping more apartment landlords and strata councils will follow the no-smoking example of Aradi’s complex.

“We’ve been working on this issue for 12 years. We’ve been educating landlords, tenants, strata corporations, and we’re making positive progress,” explained Jack Boomer, director of the Clean Air Coalition of B.C.

“But the speed at which this is moving is glacial.”

The coalition argues that since the majority of people can longer afford a single family home, the 62 per cent of Vancouver-area residents living in multi-unit housing deserve more protection from second-hand smoke.

Boomer’s group is asking for five changes to B.C. legislation that would:

• Require landlords and strata corporations to disclose the smoking status of the building and location of smoking units to prospective tenants and buyers.

• Amend the Residential Tenancy Act so that landlords can make their buildings completely smoke-free without written consent of tenants.

• Make all B.C. Housing properties smoke-free.

• Change the Strata Property Act so that all new developments are non-smoking by default.

• Offer incentives to developers to designate new buildings as smoke-free.

Three buildings managed directly by B.C. Housing have already gone smoke-free, but the regulations only apply to new tenants. The province allows non-profit housing operators to decide on their own policies.

Ministry of Health spokeswoman Kristy Anderson wrote in an email that while B.C. is committed to cutting out tobacco use and has enacted many laws regarding smoking in public, “the provincial government does not regulate smoking in a person’s home and does not anticipate a ban on smoking in an individual’s private home.”

Civil liberties advocates argue that governments should proceed with caution on legislation restricting smoking in private homes.

“We need to operate very carefully within that realm before we are unjustifiably limiting people’s autonomy and freedom,” said Micheal Vonn, policy director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

She expressed concern for elderly people living in B.C. Housing who may be forced out into the cold, putting their health at risk, if the coalition’s recommendations are implemented.

Shawn Anderson heard similar arguments when his Vancouver strata council debated a non-smoking bylaw last year, but he dismissed them as secondary to the health concerns of non-smokers. Still, he was taken aback by how much opposition there was to the bylaw, even from non-smokers.

“When we took the vote, I was actually surprised by how close it was. We just squeaked in,” he said.

The new bylaw came as a relief. The woman living above him at Hycroft Towers, in South Granville, is a smoker, and until recently the smell of cigarettes drifted into his apartment on a daily basis.

“We live in an older building. The … glass is single pane, so the smoke just kind of wafts in,” he said.

“I guess it’s a little unfair to me, but I grew up with smokers and I also see the effect that smoke has on people, with lung cancer and other health issues.”

Since the bylaw came into effect, the number of complaints about smoking in the building has gone down, but the strata has had to issue a few warning letters and one fine.

As for the woman living above Anderson, “Periodically she still smokes,” he said. “She’s on (warning) number two now.”

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