The Next Steps in the Smoke-Free Air Movement

We are entering the second summer of New York City's signature expansion of smoke-free air in parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas. Not only is the air cleaner, our smoking rates in parks and beaches have come down.

New Yorkers have quickly adopted the policy as a new social norm. Just as you don't hear anyone complaining about the lack of smoke-filled restaurants and offices, families and others taking to the beaches and parks have welcomed the new rules without losing a step.

Now Mayor Bloomberg has proposed a small additional step to inform prospective tenants of a building's smoking policy. With a disclosure policy, building owners will be required to have a smoking policy, whether to explicitly ban it or permit it, and would be required to inform prospective residents about the building's policy.

The proposal has drawn strong support from health advocates and from the National Apartment Association. The Real Estate Board of New York, known as REBNY, the city's leading association of building owners with more than 12,000 members, recently released a series of guidelines advising how buildings -- whether rental buildings, or condos and co-ops -- can implement no-smoking policies.

Increasing numbers of apartment buildings, starting with a few co-ops in Manhattan and now across the city, have implemented non-smoking policies. As REBNY pointed out in releasing its guidelines, "implementing a smoking ban could lower maintenance costs and insurance rates."

But more importantly it could also save lives. The United States Fire Administration, a division of the federal Department of Homeland Security, found that smoking is the number one cause of home fire deaths across the United States. A quarter of all smoking-relating deaths in the home happen to people other than the smoker, including the children and neighbors of the smoker. And, as the USFA stresses, "Fire caused by cigarettes and other smoking materials are preventable."

The proposed law requiring disclosure of buildings' smoking policies is a step towards allowing prospective tenants to know what they are signing up for when they move into an apartment. It supports the New York Real Property Law, which states that every tenant has the right to be free from "dangerous, hazardous or detrimental" conditions.

While New York City was the pioneer in smoke-free policies, starting with the 2002 Smoke-Free Air Act, states and localities across the country have followed our lead and in some cases gone further. Oregon and Maine already have statewide disclosure laws, and Buffalo and Rockland County have also recently passed municipal-level disclosure laws.

Smoking disclosure laws make sense because they help consumers make informed choices, especially since cigarette smoke can migrate through walls and ventilation systems far beyond the apartment where the smoke originates. The move towards more smoke-free housing options in New York City is the next natural step in protecting the life and health of city residents.

We live in a crowded city. And we literally share the air with our neighbors. Let's give New Yorkers the choice to live smoke-free. After all, we all have the right to breathe clean smoke-free air where we live, work, and play.