CHAMPAIGN — Your home is your castle, and that includes the air you breathe. But what if your home is an apartment and your neighbor smokes?
Local public health officials say nonsmoking apartment tenants who share buildings with smokers are being subjected to second-hand-smoke dangers, and they're asking all Champaign County landlords to voluntarily make their apartment buildings smoke-free.
"It's a nationwide movement. Housing is moving to smoke-free," said Tara McCauley, a special projects coordinator for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
With smoking now outlawed on the University of Illinois campus along with public places, apartment housing is the health district's next priority for a smoke-free community, Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde said.
How does smoking in one apartment hurt nonsmokers in a multifamily building?
Smoke doesn't stay in one apartment, McCauley said. It wafts through ventilation systems, light fixtures, electrical outlets, doorways and windows. And it can remain in the air for hours after each cigarette.
"It can spread based on the wind outside," McCauley said.
Second-hand smoke is a known cancer-causing agent responsible for 3,400 lung cancer deaths a year, plus another 42,000 heart disease deaths, among nonsmokers in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.
Breathing in second-hand smoke is also tied to worsening asthma in about 1 million children every year and hundreds of thousands of lower respiratory tract infections in children under 18 months old.
If health hazards aren't enough, the health district offers landlords three other incentives to go smoke-free.
Smoking is the main cause of fatalities in residential fires. Insurance rates are lower for nonsmoking buildings. And it's much cheaper to clean an apartment after a nonsmoker moves out than to clean up after a smoker, who can leave behind smoking stains, burns and odors.
Mike Kellner, the owner of the already smoke-free Kellner Rental Properties, Champaign, said smoke penetrates the pores of the paint on the walls and the stucco of the ceilings. It requires steam cleaning for beds and couches in furnished units and extra chemicals for carpet cleaning.
And, it can limit tenants, he said, because "nonsmokers are really annoyed by it."
Roland Realty Leasing Manager Curt Bulicek said a smoke-free policy for that company's approximately 25 apartment buildings has worked well.
Rather than deterring potential tenants, he said, it's "quite the opposite in my opinion. In this day and age, people are more and more adverse to that kind of behavior."
Some landlords don't even want smoking outdoors on their grounds, because they don't want cigarette butts littering the parking lots, McCauley said.
The public health district is aware of 20 apartment rental companies in Champaign-Urbana that have smoke-free policies, and it has sent out letters asking other apartment owners to join them.
The district is also offering to help landlords go smoke-free by helping them make the changes in their lease agreements, to supply them with smoke-free signs and hold smoking cessation classes to help smoking tenants quit.
Four things to know
1. Smoke-free policies in apartments are legal under state and federal law. Nobody has a constitutional right to smoke.
2. Second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer.
3. About 1.3 million people living in multifamily buildings in Illinois are exposed to second-hand smoke, according to the American Lung Association.
4. Find the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District's list of smoke-free apartment properties at http://www.c-uphd.org/wechoosehealth and click on smoke-free living.