Impact of Second-Hand Smoke in Multi-Family Dwellings Considered for Legislative Study in Connecticut

Connecticut by the Numbers

Legislation proposed at the State Capitol would establish a task force to study and make recommendations concerning protecting and safeguarding occupants and residents of mixed-use buildings from harm caused by secondhand smoke, especially residents and occupants who suffer from impaired respiratory function or another respiratory disability.

Proponents point out that over one-third of residents in Connecticut live in multi-unit structures, such as apartment buildings, condo complexes, or duplexes. Suppose a person or family living in a multi-unit structure, proponents explain, lives next to someone smoking cigarettes indoors.

The health risks caused by secondhand smoke exposure, they point out, can be deadly, especially if a respiratory disability like asthma is involved. Regardless of whether either party has in-unit ventilation or an air filtration system, secondhand smoke has a dangerous impact on a person's health, they point out.

The CDC has noted that “There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.” The federal agency has reported that “Exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and can cause coronary heart disease and stroke,” and “secondhand smoke can cause serious health problems in children.”

The proposal, Senate Bill 407, has been referred to the Public Health Committee, and is not yet scheduled for a public hearing. Introduced by Senator James Maroney of Milford, co-sponsors include Representatives Antonio Felipe, Kerry Wood, Ben McGorty, Gary Turco and Quentin Phipps.

Secondhand smoke in multi-unit buildings travels, proponents explain, through ventilation systems, common areas, windows, and walls. They cite data indicating that about one-half to two-thirds of the air in a multi-unit residence can infiltrate from neighboring tenants in older buildings.

The dilemma – and public health danger - driving the proposal boils down to this: secondhand smoke does not stay within the confines of the smoker's dwelling, because ventilation and other air filtration technologies cannot fully eliminate the health risks caused by secondhand smoke exposure.

The American Cancer Society has indicated that “Multi-unit housing where smoking is allowed is a special concern” because “tobacco smoke can move through air ducts, wall and floor cracks, elevator shafts, and along crawl spaces to contaminate units on other floors, even those that are far from the smoke.” The organization adds that second hand smoke “cannot be controlled with ventilation, air cleaning, or by separating smokers from non-smokers.”

A 2017 public education campaign in New York City focused on the “dangers of secondhand smoke at home,” explaining that “Secondhand smoke can enter apartments or common areas through shared ventilation systems, air spaces, windows and hallways.”

There also appears to be a lack of jurisdictional clarity in Connecticut between federal, state and municipal agencies, which proponents of the legislation say creates confusion for those suffering from secondhand smoke at home, increasing the time they are exposed to dangerous toxins that cause health and property damage while they attempt to seek government action to remove the potential health hazard.

The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that “Many millions of Americans, both children and adults, are still exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces despite substantial progress in tobacco control,” warning that “Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.”

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