The April 30th edition of the Boston Globe featured an article authored by correspondent Peter Keogh entitled: “The Plight of the Smoking Man.”
The piece explained the difficulties that some smokers have faced in the wake of increasing restrictions on smoking, including in many multiunit residential buildings. While the article spends some time exploring the perspective of members of a Cambridge-based smokers’ rights group, it gave the final word to PHAI’s Chris Banthin, who directs the Tobacco Control Resource Center at PHAI. Most of Mr. Banthin’s time is devoted to educating landlords, tenants, condominium associations, and property management companies why and how to successfully implement smokefree policies through the Massachusetts Smokefree Housing Project.
This excerpt of the article includes Mr. Banthin’s response to some of the concerns raised by the smokers’ rights group members:
Chris Banthin is a lawyer working with Northeastern University’s Public Health Advocacy Institute . In a 2013 interview with WBUR, Helfer, the smokers’ rights group cofounder, describes the institute’s Tobacco Control Resource Center as “public health absolutists [who] feel that if we all do what they tell us to do, we’re going to have some kind of utopian state.”
Banthin, however, describes it as “an organization that seeks to use the law to improve public health.”
When it comes to regulating smoking in privately owned properties, Banthin sees no pressing need for legislation. “A lot of landlords are going smoke-free voluntarily,” he says. “Condos also. It’s a selling point.”
But aren’t they trespassing on the right to do what you want in your own home? Aren’t the restrictions more moralistic than a valid response to any health threat?
“Those arguments fall flat,” Banthin says. “If we accept the premise that landlords can do with their property as they wish, the argument is inconsistent. And if you have the right to do what you want in your home, shouldn’t your neighbor have the same right? Your right to do what you want stops at your neighbor’s nose.
“As for secondhand smoke, the science is 100 percent irrefutable and widely accepted.”
Banthin sympathizes with those affected by bans. He advises landlords and other stakeholders on how to implement a no-smoking rule. Part of that includes engaging residents in the process.
“I have gone to hundreds of housing authority meetings,” he says. “I’m the first one that tells them. Most of them are upset, but most say, ‘OK, I recognize it’s important, so I’ll go outside.’ I think everybody gets it.”