British Columbia

Langley mom's petition to ban smoking in condo buildings gets MLA's backing

Mary Polak, the Liberal opposition house leader, said she will introduce the petition at the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly and may push for change with a private member’s bill.

Experts say changing provincial smoking laws could be uphill climb

Naomi Baker has started an online petition to ban smoking in multi-unit buildings. It has received over 13,000 signatures. (CBC)

A Langley woman's call for a ban on smoking in B.C. condos is going to the Legislature.

Naomi Baker says she and her family have been dealing with second hand smoke from an uncooperative neighbour in her building for two years.

After efforts to ban smoking at the strata level failed she started an online petition to ban smoking in multi-family buildings.

That petition has, as of Jan. 7, over 13,000 signatures since the summer and now Langley MLA Mary Polak says she will take it to Victoria.

Baker says her greatest concern with the proliferation of smoke in the condo was the health of her daughter. (CBC)

"I think she made a very compelling case," Polak told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko. "It's 2019. Lots of attitudes have changed about smoking over the years and I think here we're on the cusp of what is next."

Polak, the Liberal opposition house leader, said she will introduce the petition at the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly and may push for change with a private member's bill.

'I don't have an alternative'

One idea Polak floated was to have smoking in multi-family buildings banned by default. Stratas could then vote to allow smoking if they choose.

Baker, speaking in her home, said she's thrilled by the petition's uptake and by Polak's championing of it.

A look in her Langley unit shows efforts to keep the smoke smell at bay: taped up thermostats, clumps of spray foam and sealed outlets. Every nook and cranny where smoke can drift in, Baker and her husband have tried to seal it shut.

Baker said the smoke would come into her unit four to six times a day and the scent would linger for an hour. (CBC)

"You can go outside to smoke," Baker said. "I don't have an alternative. If I need to hold my breath and not breathe… I need to go and live outside my home 100 per cent of the time. How is that reasonable?"

Her greatest concern is her baby and her exposure to the smoke

"As a mother, I would do anything for her," Baker said. "Here I am, stuck. I literally have nothing else I can do."

Strata might be best way

Strata lawyer Paul Mendes explained smoking in multi-family units is normally only prohibited in interior common spaces. It's up to each strata to pen further restrictions.

Smoking bylaws are one of the most common issues he is asked to help with, he said, especially since recreational cannabis was legalized.

"I think it's a very noble goal that she's pursuing," Mendes said of Baker's efforts. "But if I was advising her, my focus would really be on trying to get the bylaws implemented at the strata level."

Mendes acknowledged getting the votes required for a smoking ban can be frustrating.

"Just keep at it, because, eventually, it probably will pass," he said. "The number of smokers, year over year, tends to sort of decline. Although now with vaping that might be changing."

Lots of variation

Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Homeowners Association of B.C., said what could make things complicated for a province-wide bylaw is that strata buildings vary.

"We do have thousands of units across the province that are bare land stratas or detached townhouses where there is no connection between the buildings whatsoever," Gioventu said.

"Such a bylaw would be very restrictive of property."

He said the best way forward may be strata-by-strata bylaws.

Residents creating such a bylaw should get legal advice to make sure they are enforceable, he advised. 

Listen to the full interview with Mary Polak:

With files from Rohit Joseph, Lien Yeung and CBC Radio One's On The Coast