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Butt Out? Give and Take is Helpful in Dealing with Smoke

In the ongoing effort to limit the nonsmoking public's exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke, municipal governments across the country are coming up with increasingly strict bans on smoking in public places—even on public streets and in parks in some communities. Perhaps not surprisingly, more and more condominium associations are following suit.

“There is no real way to determine the number of communities that have instituted smoking bans or otherwise grappled with the issue,” says Donna DiMaggio Berger, a founding partner with the law firm of Katzman, Garfinkel & Berger, based in Margate, “but suffice it to say that secondhand smoke is becoming more and more of a problem in shared ownership communities.”

Changing Attitudes

This is largely a reflection of changing attitudes toward smoking. About 20 percent of the population nationwide consider themselves smokers, and growing numbers of non-smokers are concerned about the health hazards of exposure to second-hand smoke. A 2006 Surgeon General’s report concluded that “there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke.”

For managers of multi-unit buildings, smoking has always been a headache. “The smoking issue is nothing new,” says Kenneth S. Direktor, an attorney and shareholder with the West Palm Beach-based law firm of Becker & Poliakoff. “It’s particularly been an issue with buildings that have older ventilation systems because it permeates the walls and the vents in the neighboring units. This is not necessarily the older, rundown buildings. I’ve dealt with some incredibly high end buildings where people who are non-smokers and who've paid a lot of money for their condos have neighbors smoke cigars in the next [unit] and they might as well have someone blowing smoke in their face. In the 30 years I’ve been in this business, smoking has been an issue for most of them. It is hard to put numbers to this but I’ll tell you it’s an issue that has found a foothold.”

“There’s a generation of owners coming in who grew up in more of a non-smoking environment,” Direktor continues. “I think at long last, the buildings with negative air pressure issues have had enough.” When the air pressure inside a building is lower than the pressure outside, “When someone smokes, even when they are outside on a balcony, the negative pressure in the building will suck the air back in, and that smoke will form a ring around the building.”

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