Should you be able to smoke in your own home?

Rights, Real estate

New Yorkers will no longer be lighting up in their own homes if Mayor Bill de Blasio gets his way.

The New York Post reported that the de Blasio administration is taking steps to make the city smoke free in order to reduce the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

De Blasio is not, however, proposing a law that would prohibit smoking at home within city limits. Instead, the administration is planning to give $9,000 to each of four health advocacy groups willing to work with landlords and developers on banning smoking within their buildings.

Is this idea a step in the right direction for public health? Or another instance of bureaucrats telling adults what they can and cannot do?

Carrying on Bloomberg’s legacy

De Blasio appears to be carrying on the legacy of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who passed several tobacco-related laws during his 12 years in office and also famously tried—and failed—to ban big sodas. Bloomberg enacted the 2003 Smoke-Free Air Act, which banned smoking in workplaces and most bars and restaurants. The act was later amended to encompass New York City’s parks, beaches, and pedestrian malls.

But it seems de Blasio’s ambitions go further. In April, his administration released a 354-page document titled “One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City,” a blueprint for improving city life that covers everything from infrastructure to water management to culture.

The plan aims, among other goals, to reduce asthma triggers, particularly secondhand smoke in the home. The city hopes to achieve this by “creating strong incentives for building owners receiving city financing for new construction or substantial rehabilitation” to incorporate smoke-free policies. It also promises to work “to pass legislation requiring multi-unit housing to have a smoking policy and to disclose it to residents and prospective residents. To complement this, we will explore opportunities for the adoption of other smoke-free housing policies in New York City.” (Note that having a smoking policy does not necessarily mean adopting a smoke-free policy.)

The greater good versus individual liberty

Those working towards a smoke-free city see the issue as key to improving overall air quality and public health. The lobbying organization Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights says that, in addition to health concerns, “a smoke-free building is a sound business decision.” The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene agrees that smoke-free environments offer advantages to both building owners, who see less property damage and better insurance rates, and residents, who breathe cleaner air.

The Free Thought Project disagrees, stating, “The notion that everyone benefits is absurd, as the person whose liberty is stripped by a potential bureaucratic mandate most surely doesn’t benefit.” Similarly, the Citizens Freedom Alliance, an organization staunchly opposed to the so-called  “nanny state,” believes adults should be able to make their own decisions.

Smoking, however, presents an interesting dilemma, since an individual’s choice to smoke can affect others, via secondhand smoke, in a way that other harmful or unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking giant sodas, do not.

Other cities already restrict smoking in some homes

If de Blasio’s proposal goes into effect, New York City will not be the first place to limit residents’ ability to smoke in their homes.

California is traditionally one of the toughest states on smoking, and the city of San Rafael proved it by being the first to pass a strict home smoking ban in 2013. The city council passed an ordinance outlawing smoking inside all private homes in buildings that share a wall with another unit, such as apartments and condos.

In addition, public housing authorities around the country were spurred to pass smoking bans in public housing after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released a memo in 2009 strongly encouraging them to do so. Just a few of the cities to adopt such policies include Seattle, in 2012, Minneapolis, also in 2012, and Philadelphia, which voted to ban smoking in public housing just very recently. And a bill that would prohibit smoking in New York public housing by 2020 has just been proposed by Felix Ortiz.

These smoke-free policies may save money as well as improve health, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released last fall, which asserts that such policies could have saved $500 million in secondhand smoke-related healthcare costs in 2012.

Voluntary until it isn’t

De Blasio’s administration is not pushing for legislation now, but smoke-free laws could enter the discussion in the future. As the New York Post notes, the administration’s plan to ban smoking in the home is “voluntary—at least for now.”