Langley woman's petition calls for ban on smoking in condos

A Langley woman is hoping her petition with hundreds of online supporters could lead to a change in the province's laws, resulting in a default ban on smoking inside condo or apartment suites.

A spokesperson from the B.C. Ministry of Housing said strata bylaws can be used to address secondhand smoke

Naomi Baker holds her three-month-old daughter, Faith, inside her Langley condo suite. Baker has struggled to keep cigarette fumes from her neighbours out of the unit. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Langley resident and condo owner Naomi Baker is losing her battle with her neighbours who smoke.

The neighbours haven't changed their habits, the strata council won't ban smoking inside the building, and despite efforts to seal it out, she's still getting fumes inside her suite.

Now, she's trying to stir the B.C. government to action with an online petition.

"I've lived here for a couple years, and we have secondhand smoke coming from different units in the building and we're sick of it," said Baker.

A member of B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinson's office said in a statement that strata bylaws should be able to deal with the smoking problem, even if anti-nuisance bylaws are used rather than specific smoking bylaws.

But Baker said it hasn't worked.

She said, before she moved into the unit, the issue of banning smoking in her building was put to a vote, but it fell one vote short of the 75 per cent required to pass the bylaw.

The Bakers have sealed off every part of their suite they can, taping off unused outlets, caulking around baseboards and spraying foam sealant around plumbing. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

So, Baker has started a petition online that has attracted hundreds of supporters who all want to see the provincial government impose a default ban on smoking in multi-unit dwellings and leave it to stratas to pass a law permitting smoking inside, rather than the other way around.

"We just want the law to be removed from the hands of the strata, so then it doesn't have to come down to unit by unit, building by building," she said.

According to Baker, a bylaw prohibiting residents from smoking on common property, like balconies, has only made her problem worse, as smokers are driven inside to the privacy of their homes where the rules haven't reached.

The Bakers have gone to great lengths to simply seal the fumes out, with silicon caulking around baseboards, taped-over outlets, and foam spray around holes for plumbing. Then, there's the constant whir of the air purifier in the baby's room.

But all of the effort hasn't snuffed out the problem.

Baker said in the two years since they moved into the suite, the relationship with her smoking neighbours has broken down. Initial steps toward improvement have stalled and now she resorts to stomping on the floor when she smells tobacco.

"I don't have a problem with them smoking; I just don't want the smoke in my suite," she said on Tuesday.

Dr. Chris Carlsten, professor of medicine and head of the respiratory medicine division at the University of British Columbia, empathizes with Baker's plight.

"Inhaling what's know to be a harmful substance, essentially against your will, is a really hard thing to accept," said Carlsten.

"Thankfully, it's a long time for someone who has no health problems to develop a new health problem from secondhand smoke, so it would be usually years," he said.

"On the other hand, people who have a pre-existing disease like asthma — an asthmatic [person] can have a triggering of that asthma or worsening of that asthma, due to short exposure, even over hours or days."

Carlsten said the challenge is how to balance individual rights and health concerns, but ultimately, the smoker has a choice.

"They do have options. They do have options to smoke outside of the dwelling," he said.


With files from Anita Bathe

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

About the Author

Rafferty Baker

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker

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