Clearing the air

Resident of apartment building that allows smoking talks about second-hand smoke

Colin MacLean
Published on April 12, 2012
Diana Bolger takes a walk near her apartment building Wednesday. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Because of where she lives, Diana Bolger has ended up in the emergency room four times this year.

Bolger suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition that causes severe narrowing of the airways and reduces lung capacity. She is chronically short of breath and has trouble climbing stairs, small hills and doing other simple physical tasks.

Her condition deteriorated to the point last year that she had to move out of her house and into an apartment building that had an elevator.

The problem for Bolger is that her apartment building allows smoking indoors. She knew about the policy before she moved in but didn’t realize how much damage it would cause to her health.

“When you walk down my hall, going down to my apartment, it was really hard to breathe. I’ve had to cover my mouth on several occasions just to get to my apartment,” said Bolger. “I didn’t know the intensity of the smoking. I’d never lived in a smoking building before,” she added.

Since she moved into the apartment, in Regency Towers on The Boulevard in St. John’s, Bolger has been prescribed a very strong anti-inflammatory by her doctors and is now looking for a new place to live.

In the meantime she has spoken with her landlord and her neighbours, all of whom she says have been sympathetic. But the bottom line is that none of them is doing anything wrong. There are no laws or regulations concerning smoking in apartment buildings in Newfoundland and Labrador other than those imposed by landlords.

So Bolger intends to find a non-smoking apartment in the hopes of preserving her health and slowing down the deterioration of her lungs.

But the experience of living in a building that allows smoking has left her with a deep sense of unease about how little people, at least in her experience, understand about second-hand smoke and its potential effects on those with lung conditions.

“You’re taking someone else’s life in your hands. ... People just don’t understand that,” she said.

Coincidentally, a new paper released Wednesday by Dr. David Saltman, a respected MUN professor and oncologist, and Kevin Coady, executive director of Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance for the Control of Tobacco, makes the argument that more apartment buildings should be encouraged to go smoke-free.

The paper was part of a larger package released by the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada’s 2011-2012 Report Card on Cancer in Canada.

In the paper, the authors make the case that converting multi-unit housing to be smoke-free is both economical and has significant health benefits for residents.

The paper argues that non-smokers living in smoking-enabled multi-unit housing can still be exposed to tobacco smoke because of air ducts, wall seepage, along plumbing and electrical lines and through windows.

It also quoted a study out of Boston that showed non smokers living in low-income housing were exposed to the equivalent of 0.25 cigarettes per day, up to as much as one full cigarette a day.

It also stated that landlords of non-smoking buildings save money in the long run because they don’t have to worry about cleaning up carpet burns or trying to get the smell of smoke out of the apartment for new tenants.

But what the paper stopped short of doing was advising governments to take legislative action, similarly to what’s been done for smoking in the workplace and public buildings.

There’s no need, said Saltman.

“What we want the government to do is raise awareness of this issue. ... I’m not sure legislating banning smoking in apartments is necessary given the movement now (of declining smoking trends),” said Saltman.

The report card in its intirety can be found at

Twitter: @TelegramMacLean