Ottawa non-profit housing group first to go smoke free in Canada

A co-operative condo in the capital makes non-smoking history by banning smoking in all residences and public spaces.
Conservation Co-operative's second hand smoke committee chair Wayne Sawtell stands at the apartment's new smoking digs, after the co-op banned smoking inside any of its buildings.

The Conservation Co-operative Homes at 140 Mann Avenue in Ottawa is now smoke free — on Weedless Wednesday no less — making it the first non-profit housing group in Canada to ban smoking everywhere inside its facility.

Three designated smoking sections will be set up outside the building, about 30 metres away and they will remain there for a year, after which time the co-op board will consider banning smoking outside, as well.

"The smoke moves around the building, through the ventilation system or cracks in the walls, what have you," said Wayne Sawtell, chair of the co-op's second-hand smoke committee. "And some people have been suffering quite badly in their own apartments as a result."

So Sawtell surveyed the co-op's members and realized that implementing restrictions had some traction.

"We found, overwhelmingly that people were in favour of a ban on smoking of some kind," he said.

Last year, co-op members voted to ban smoking in the residences — 48 in favour, 18 against — and the Non Smokers Rights Association says there is momentum for more non-profit housing groups in Ontario to consider this.

Already, 70 such housing co-operatives in the province have restricted smoking on the premises to some degree.

"It's really rewarding to see the social norm change happening. People are so happy to be able to find a home where they're protected from smoke," said Pippa Beck, spokesperson for the association. "It's a really stressful experience when you're at your home and you're being exposed."

As for enforcing the new rules at the Conservation Co-operative's apartments, anyone caught smoking in the building could be subject to membership reviews with the board. But the co-op is urging members who still smoke to consider quitting.

Sawtell hopes this is part of a bigger trend in favour of healthy living.

"We're realistic. We know that people do smoke. But the idea is not to persecute them, or victimize smokers, it's just to try and educate them to change their behaviour," he said.

And Conservation co-op members hope it catches on. They've already been contacted by other co-ops across the country about implementing similar smoke-free bylaws.