Secondhand smoke in apartments can be a real problem even if no one in your unit smokes. Scientific studies show that smoke from a neighboring apartment can travel through ventilation systems, pipes, walls, open windows and doors, electrical sockets and even tiny cracks in plaster and drywall.1
While many Californians have made the choice to not allow smoking inside their homes, many living in apartments and condominiums are still exposed to drifting toxic secondhand smoke. Some worry whether second hand smoke is worse than smoking simply because choice has been removed and they are unable to remove the risk of damage to their health. Second hand smoke is a serious health risk and there are steps you can take to avoid second hand smoke at home.
One third of Californians live in multi-unit housing2 where units share walls, floors or ceilings, which means that millions may be exposed to secondhand smoke even if they do not allow smoking in their unit.3
Tobacco smoke is also absorbed into walls, floors, furniture, clothes, toys and other household surfaces within minutes to hours after it is exhaled.4 Chemicals in the smoke can then be recycled into the air for hours, days and even months.5 Airing out rooms or separating the smoking from nonsmoking units within the same building does not always provide protection.6
People with lower incomes are more often exposed to secondhand smoke because they can’t afford to move if they are exposed to it.
So how do you avoid second hand smoke at home when second hand smoke can travel through walls? Not allowing smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to completely prevent exposure to secondhand smoke. Owners of apartment buildings have the right to make their buildings smoke-free. Landlords can actually save money in cleaning costs when preparing a unit that a smoker lived in for a new tenant. According to a 2010 study, on average, it costs nearly $5,000 more to prepare a smoking unit for a new tenant than it does to prepare a nonsmoking unit.7
If you are a tenant and are suffering from drifting secondhand smoke in your unit, there are steps you can take to work with your neighbors and landlord to adopt a smoke-free policy for your building. Learn more here.
In addition, if you have a medical condition made worse by secondhand smoke drifting into your apartment, federal and state disability laws might help you address the problem. Depending on the nature of your disability, your landlord may be required to make changes to reduce your exposure. For more information, click here.
For additional resources for both tenants and landlords, check out these organizations.