Cancer-Survivor Seeks Non-Smoking Housing in Rockland County

BY MATT SHI

Betty Jablonski is a second-time cancer survivor and an activist for the rights of non-smoking tenants of Rockland County’s multi-public housing. “I do not want to hear the words ‘you have cancer’ again,” she wrote in 2008.

Over the years she has continued to lobby for a change in Rockland’s smoking policies. “I feel a law must be passed to protect all non-smokers in the privacy of their home especially in rental apartment living as these people perhaps cannot afford to own their own home [sic],” she said.

She is advocating for the availability of smoke-free housing in multi-family dwellings including such as apartment complexes, condominiums, and town-houses.

Passing this law has proved to be difficult. According to a new policy implemented in 2012, her Monsey landlord has to decide whether to allow or prohibit smoking in his or her complex.

The landlord must simply say if the complex requires all units to be smoke-free or not. The law does not require that the landlord proved smoke-free apartment units or buildings, although in indoor common areas such as public hallways, laundry rooms, and management offices, smoking is prohibited by the New York State Clean Indoor Air Act.

The problem here—and one of Ms. Jablonski’s concerns—is that smoke can travel from one apartment to another, exposing non-smokers to second and third-hand smoke. (Third-hand smoke is exposure to tobacco’s substances after a cigarette is extinguished. These contaminants, such as nicotine, linger on a space’s surfaces).

Because a complex’s smoking policies are up to the landlord, the policies often favor smokers. This happens because the landlord tends to focus on the business-side of his or her apartment.

Non-smoking tenants do not have the right to choose smoke-free housing because it is neither readily available nor made necessary by law. “The smoker has the right to smoke because there are no laws to protect non-smokers,” Betty said. “There is not even a section designated for non-smokers in rental apartment living.”

She pointed out that even hotels, in which people typically stay for short periods of time, have smoke-free sections of rooms.

For the time being, those who wish to have absolutely no exposure to smoke, may be out of luck. In Jablonski’s case, she claims even exposure to third-hand smoke causes her health problems.