Why should I live in a smoke-free building?

Smoke-free housing is the best option for your health and will save you time and money. Find out the facts and stats and benefits of smoke-free housing.

How dangerous is second-hand smoke?

Second-hand tobacco smoke is a major, preventable contributor to acute and chronic adverse health outcomes that affect all Albertans. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke has more than 50 cancer-causing chemicals and has been identified as a toxic air contaminate and known carcinogen.

People who breathe second-hand smoke are at increased risk for:

  • heart disease
  • lung cancer
  • emphysema
  • acute respiratory problems (like asthma)
  • chest infections
  • excessive coughing
  • throat irritation

Unborn babies are at extra risk for:

  • low birth weight and slow growth
  • decreased blood flow, affecting the heart, lungs, digestive system and central nervous system

Babies and children are at extra risk for:

  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • asthma (200 to 400% increased risk if parents smoke)
  • pneumonia
  • bronchitis
  • croup and coughs
  • ear infections
  • problems with cognition (thinking things through)

What can I do if I am exposed to smoke in my home?

Second-hand smoke can drift from one residence to another through cracks in walls, doorways, plumbing and electrical systems, heating and air conditioning ducts and outdoor patios and balconies. Once smoke enters your home, many of the dangerous chemicals remain in the air and settle on surfaces in the room, like walls, drapes, carpets, furniture and clothes. This residue, often called third-hand smoke, contains toxic, cancer causing substances.

Over a third of Albertans living in multi-unit dwellings have experienced second-hand smoke infiltrating their homes from neighbouring units. Unfortunately, most never lodge formal complaints with their property managers because they feel that nothing can be done. In reality, there are quite a few steps you can take to reduce or eliminate your secondhand smoke exposure including taking measures to better seal or ventilate your unit.

While they can help, air filters, purifiers and ventilation systems cannot eliminate second-hand smoke. Some of the smoke and larger particles from the air may be removed, but they will not remove the smaller particles or gases found in second-hand smoke. In 2005, James Repace, an internationally recognized second-hand smoke physicist, conducted a review for ASHRAE about mitigating tobacco smoke. He concluded that, “ventilation technology cannot possibly achieve acceptable indoor air quality in the presence of smoking, leaving smoking bans as the only alternative.”

Other options include working with the smoker to find a mutually agreeable solution, working with your board or property manager to negotiate a solution, or taking legal action. If some of these steps sound daunting, don’t be discouraged.  This website contains many tools and resources to help along the way.  Start by reading our Tips on taking action when exposed to a neighbors smoking.

Is my cooperative obligated to protect me from exposure to second-hand smoke in my unit?

There are no standard bylaws for cooperative housing in Alberta, so the obligations of cooperative boards can vary and it is important to consult your bylaws to understand your rights. 

Many bylaws include clauses requiring the board to properly maintain and keep the cooperative property in a state of good and serviceable repair. Thus, residents affected by second-hand smoke may have grounds to hold the board accountable for mitigating second-hand smoke migration between units as part of their duty to maintain the property. 

Some bylaws will contain a clause forbidding members from using their unit in a manner that will cause a nuisance or hazard or increase the risk of fire.  In certain circumstances, a member could also argue that second-hand smoke exposure constitutes a nuisance, hazard or fire risk and expect the board to take action to enforce the bylaw even without the existence of a specific smoke-free policy.  

Legal information provided on this site is based on a professional legal opinion available here.


Do non-smoking cooperative members have a right to breathe clean air?

The “right to clean air” is not enshrined anywhere in Canadian law.

However, members typically have a right to reasonable enjoyment of their premises, which includes the right to be free from unreasonable disturbances, nuisances or hazards. This could include being free from breathing toxic substances such as second-hand smoke on a frequent and on-going basis.

Legal information provided on this site is based on a professional legal opinion available here.

Do residents who smoke have unrestricted rights to smoke in their suites, even if it bothers other residents?

There is no right to smoke guaranteed in law. However, Arbitrators in many provinces have generally found that in the absence of a no-smoking bylaw, residents have the right to smoke in their suites.  Bylaws can vary significantly from one housing cooperative to the next, so it is important to understand exactly what your bylaws have to say on the matter.

If there is evidence that second-hand smoke is infiltrating your home from a neighbouring unit or balcony on a frequent and on-going basis, and substantially interfering with your use and enjoyment of your home, then your property manager/board should take steps to correct the problem.

Legal information provided on this site is based on a professional legal opinion available here.

If residents are smoking in indoor common areas what can I do?

Tell your board or property manager. Under the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act, they have a responsibility to:

  • Ensure that everyone is aware that smoking is prohibited in indoor common areas;
  • Ensure that no one smokes in the common areas of these residences;
  • Post a sufficient number of “no-smoking” signs.

How can I help make my building smoke-free?

This website provides guides, tools and resources to help walk housing providers through the process of developing a smoke free policy.  If you think your board, or property manager may be willing to consider creating a smoke-free policy for you building, you can start by directing them to this website or you can request a print copy of one of our guidebooks to give to them.  If you think they may need more convincing, you could also try rallying support from other residents by collecting signatures on a petition. There are sample petitions for cooperative members in our tools and resources.

Are you doubtful that there are others who feel the same way you do in your building? You may be surprised.  Seven out of ten Albertans who currently live in multi-unit housing prefer to live in smoke-free buildings.  Learn more about what Albertans think about smoke-free policies and other important facts here.

How do I ensure that the next unit I rent/buy will be 100% smoke-free?

If you want to live in a 100% smoke-free building, ensure that there is a no-smoking clause written into your bylaws that states the entire building is smoke-free, including the private units, and outdoor balconies and patios. It is not enough for the unit to be simply advertised as smoke-free, or for you to have seen this mentioned in an application form. There must be a policy in the bylaws, and it must apply to all units in the building.

When talking to property managers or developers, here are some questions to ask about the no-smoking policy:

  • Does it apply to all units in the building?
  • If there are existing owners who have been “grandfathered” (and are permitted to smoke), how many are grandfathered and where are they located?
  • How is the policy enforced?
  • Is there a designated smoking area on the property? If so, is it far enough away to ensure that smoke cannot travel into private units or balconies?
  • Did the previous occupant smoke in the unit you are considering? If so, what steps were taken to remove the odor and residue from walls, carpets and drapery?

Where can I find smoke-free housing in my city?

Our smoke-free housing directory is a great place to start your search for smoke-free housing. We are pleased to offer a combined list of private sector, non-profits, condominiums, cooperatives and rentals that have either gone smoke-free or are in the process of doing so. When you're looking to rent or buy housing, ask the property manager about their smoke-free status and review the policy they have in place to understand its reach and limitations before you commit.

How can I find information on quitting smoking or on supporting a loved one with quitting?

There are many resources available to help Albertans quit smoking. For local cessation tools and resources, visit albertaquits.ca and cancer.ca.