There will soon be far fewer smokers in some of Canada’s public housing units. “We’ve got people who are unhealthy, frail, have children or have quit smoking,” says Deb Schlichter, director of housing for the region of Waterloo, Ont., where new tenants are required to sign leases with no-smoking clauses. St. John’s, Nfld., recently enacted a similar ban, and several other communities are considering implementing non-smoking clauses.
Anti-smoking groups are applauding the effort. “Second-hand smoke can travel through the heating spaces, through cracks in the floorboards and the fixtures. It gets into these units very easily,” says Pam Kaufman, a scientist with the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit. A study by the region of Waterloo also found that second-hand smoke could seep into adjoining apartments, potentially harming non-smokers. (A representative from St. John’s said that even though his city also enacted a ban, it found no evidence to support such a claim.)
Kaufman and other advocates would like to see municipalities go even further—they want to ban smoking in all apartment complexes, a regulation that’s been instituted in several U.S. cities. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 83 per cent of Ontario adults also agree that smoking should be banned in multi-unit dwellings.
However, the legality and effectiveness of no-smoking clauses has come into question. Cities are technically the landlords of public housing projects, which means they can declare the buildings smoke-free, but there’s a debate as to whether the rules can actually be enforced. Peter Rosenthal, a lawyer and professor at the University of Toronto, says smokers may be able to challenge bans based on their right to liberty and—because of nicotine addiction—discrimination on the basis of disability. He contends that it’s up to landlords to ensure smoke can’t pass through walls, and says that if smokers aren’t affecting the health of others, no one has a right to force them to butt out.