If a building is designated smoke-free, one would normally expect that smoking isn’t allowed – unless it’s P.E.I. and the building is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Family and Human Services. The department has 41 buildings designated as non-smoking facilities but only 19 are completely smoke-free. Government says it cannot force smokers in those buildings to stop smoking or move out, since they were there before the buildings were designated as smoke-free.
The government also has another 60 seniors’ homes that are designated as smoking buildings. So, of the 101 government-subsidized seniors’ facilities across the Island, only 19 are smoke-free. For non-smoking seniors, their options for comfortable, retirement years are limited.
Government notes that smoking in all seniors’ buildings must take place in the units of the smokers, not in hallways or common areas. That is small consolation for non-smokers. It just takes one smoker in a multi-unit building to make life miserable for other residents who don't light up. Cigarette smoke always seems to find its way under doors, into corridors and ducts, and then throughout the building, no matter how many precautions are used to contain it.
A push for all multi-unit apartment buildings to become smoke free has recently resurfaced across the province. A good place to start is with the province’s largest landlord – the provincial government. Despite overwhelming evidence about the health risks of tobacco, government is OK with allowing people to smoke in over 80 per cent of its seniors’ homes.
The province suggests that it has started work on implementing a smoke-free policy but the process takes time. Far too much time, says Frank Morrison of Smoke-Free P.E.I. which supports a plan for communities to adopt 100 per cent smoke-free public spaces. It sounds simple but it’s not. A facility can be smoke-free, but then 15 feet from the front door there is a designated smoking area. So, the facility isn’t really smoke free.
Morrison wants to see all public spaces smoke-free, such as hotel rooms, multi-unit apartments, seniors’ residences, parks, rinks, churches, campgrounds etc. - everywhere except your own property. For many Islanders, their home is their castle and a precious last sanctuary – whether it's a private dwelling, their apartment, condo or seniors’ residence.
Government is stalling on supporting Smoke-Free P.E.I.’s recommendation of no smoking in all public spaces. A good start is all subsidized seniors’ complexes and low-income housing units. Is butting out such a difficult price to pay, when it makes living in the building bearable for everyone? Smoking cessation programs are available.
Change is coming, often without government’s lead or support. Last fall, UPEI adopted a smoke-free campus by introducing a new tobacco use policy effective Sept. 1. The policy bans the use of cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, water pipes, cigars and tobacco in any form on campus. A number of municipalities are developing or considering tobacco-free bylaws.
A province-wide smoking ban in all multi-unit buildings is a good start. Government needs to step up and take the lead on this issue.