Proposed county law takes aim at reducing secondhand smoke in multi-family residences

A proposed county law would clarify smoking regulations by further cracking down on the potential for secondhand smoke in multi-family residences.

The proposed law would amend a chapter of the county’s code to prohibit smoking in areas like balconies and patios, where secondhand smoke can be pulled into a building’s ventilation system. The law will be the subject of a public hearing Tuesday at 2 p.m.

The Suffolk County Legislature discussed the proposal at Thursday’s meeting.

Smoking is already prohibited in a wide range of facilities, including schools and places of work, as well as common areas of multi-family residences and areas in close proximity to entrances.

During the public portion of the meeting, Paulette Orlando, community engagement specialist of the Tobacco Action Coalition of Long Island, highlighted the “millions of nonsmokers [who] continue to be exposed to secondhand smoke in areas not covered by smoke-free laws or policies, including the very homes where they live.”

Ms. Orlando referenced New York State’s Clean Indoor Air Act, first implemented in 2003 and updated and expanded in 2017, which prohibits smoking in nearly all public and private indoor workplaces. Despite implementation and enforcement of the act, she said, the home is the primary source of secondhand smoke exposure for children and a major source for adults.

Referencing commonly contracted smoking-related illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory issues and asthma in adults and children, as well as how such illnesses may be further exacerbated by secondhand smoke, Ms. Orlando argued that “everyone should be able to breathe freely in their homes.”

“More than 3,000 non-smoking adults in New York State die from diseases including heart disease, lung cancer and stroke caused by secondhand smoke every year,” she said. She cited a child’s vulnerability to certain illnesses borne from secondhand smoke exposure, incidences of sudden infant death syndrome in newborns and ear infections in children. Ms. Orlando also said more than two in five nonsmokers who live below the poverty line are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Legis. William Spencer (D–Centerport) expressed “wholehearted” agreement with Ms. Orlando, but said he had concerns over those suffering from addiction who would be further limited from smoking in their homes, if the local laws are adopted.

“I definitely think that everyone has a right to breathe freely in their homes,” he said. “Some of the issues that we’re trying to reconcile with this is that when we start looking at multi-family units … I can think of perhaps someone that has worked and saved to live the American dream and now they have their own home and they’re suffering from addiction and they’ve been restricted from more and more smoking in public places. I think there’s got to be a way to protect the public who have a right to have clean air in their homes, but also someone who might be disabled, a veteran, a senior who is suffering from the addiction as an adult making a personal choice in something that they’ve paid for in the privacy of their own bedroom.”

Ms. Orlando said on any given day, “if you survey smokers, 65% of them will say they want to quit … Essentially, if one person smokes in the building, everyone smokes.”