Opinion | Smoke-free apartment living is every resident’s right

CLEAR VIEW: New strata laws include, for the first time, smoking as a potential nuisance or hazard.
CLEAR VIEW: New strata laws include, for the first time, smoking as a potential nuisance or hazard.

Do you live in an apartment building and struggle with smoke from the neighbours drifting through your open windows?

Exposure to secondhand smoke in strata scheme apartment complexes is a common and frustrating issue.

Cancer Council NSW’s 2016 Community Survey showed that 80 per cent of participants would prefer their building to restrict smoking to some extent with 42 per cent saying they’d prefer to live in a building that doesn’t allow smoking anywhere on the property.

Everyone has a right to breathe clean air, and those who choose to live smoke-free in their home should be able to so. We know secondhand tobacco smoke is a cause of cancer and any level of exposure is unsafe. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, ear problems and more severe asthma.

Adults who have been exposed to secondhand smoke experience immediate adverse effects on their cardiovascular system and in the long term can develop coronary heart disease and lung cancer. In Australia 6 per cent of lung cancer cases in men and women have been attributed to living with a partner who smokes.

Laws restricting smoking in indoor and outdoor public areas have been widely adopted and accepted in NSW as people understand the health risks of secondhand smoke exposure. Surveys have shown that the majority of Australians (93 per cent) want to live in smoke-free homes yet residents living in apartment complexes remain exposed to secondhand smoke, even in common areas.

Strata laws came into effect in NSW late 2016 which, for the first time, include smoking as a potential nuisance or hazard. The new laws include by-law reforms which will help better manage issues in strata areas, including smoke penetration. This is good news for all tenants. The best and most effective way of protecting owners and tenants from exposure to secondhand smoke is a complete ban on smoking within strata schemes.

Concerned owners and tenants often struggle with how best to tackle the issue of pushing for a complete ban on smoking so Cancer Council NSW has developed a toolkit, Achieving Smoke-free Apartment Living. The toolkit summarises the benefits of smoke-free apartment complexes, the steps to achieve smoke-free living, and examples of what to include in a smoke-free by-law (including example wording for a by-law to completely ban smoking in the strata scheme). 

For landlords, providing smoke-free housing means protection from legal claims. In a case heard by the Civil and Administrative Tribunal a landlord was ordered to pay compensation to a tenant who was experiencing secondhand smoke from a neighbouring apartment. The tribunal said that the landlord could have asked the owners’ corporation to introduce a by-law to ban smoking.

Our research has found that among the more than 1300 strata schemes reviewed, 5 per cent had a by-law to restrict smoking in any way – such as a ban in common areas. Smoke-free by-laws are becoming more common and we estimate about 200 strata schemes have already implemented a complete smoking ban. Download the toolkit at cancercouncil.com.au/smokefree or call 13 11 20.

Shayne Connell is the regional manager of Cancer Council Hunter Central Coast