The Perils of Second Hand Smoke in Retirement

2nd hand smokeI’m fairly certain that you haven’t given the thought of second-hand smoke affecting your health in your retirement years. Unless, of course, you are a smoker yourself, that is. Odds are also fairly certain that when you made retirement plans affecting your downsizing options you may have chosen a multiple-living dwelling vs a stand-alone, single dwelling. The perils of second-hand smoke never once entered into your equation of retirement planning.

Neither did it for my husband or myself. So, imagine our disbelief when three months after taking possession of our unit, in a brand-newly built condominium complex, when we started smelling the stink of cigarette smoke wafting up through our walls. Unbeknownst to us, despite witnessing and confirming stringent, solid construction laws on our new abode, 70% of all air floating through multiple-family dwellings is shared. If you think you’re safe from the perils of inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke simply because you are living in a single, stand-alone dwelling, think again. Most times, single dwellings are built twelve feet apart. So, if your neighbor decides to light up on his or her balcony or backyard, if the wind is blowing your way, you’re going to be inhaling smoke that contains over 4,000 carcinogens.

There is only one way to protect yourself from the perils of second-hand smoke and that is to live inside a smoke-free environment. Most states have (thankfully) passed non-smoking laws in public places BUT these laws oftentimes do not include the governing of what people can and can not do inside their very own private living quarters. DH and I are from New York, so we are a bit spoiled. New York has banned smoking in all public places, public work areas, parks, beaches and recently inside apartments and condos of both state-owned residences AND any multiple-family dwellings.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds are toxic and about 70 can cause cancer. … Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breathing even a little secondhand smoke can be dangerous. Inhaling secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in nonsmoking adults. … Exposure to secondhand smoke can also cause coronary heart disease and have negative effects on your blood and blood vessels, increasing your risk of a heart attack. For nonsmokers, breathing secondhand smoke has immediate harmful effects on the heart and blood vessels. It is estimated that secondhand smoke caused nearly 34,000 heart disease deaths each year during 2005–2009 among adult nonsmokers in the United States.

I’m not going to bore you, my reader, with the frustrating efforts my husband and I have been going through this past year since we took possession of our new retirement condo. I don’t blame ourselves for what happened to us because it can happen to anybody. We just didn’t think about the possibility of second-hand smoke permeating through the building. But I will tell you this, that unless another human being is experiencing the same exact thing you are, there is no compassion. Our building houses 30 families. Unfortunately the two individuals who smoke in our building live below DH and myself. They start smoking at 5AM in the morning and continue, at times, throughout the day till 2AM. If they are sitting in their living room smoking, our living room above them fills with cigarette smoke. If they want to smoke in bed, our bedroom is right above them and it fills up with the stench of cigarette smoke. The smoke comes up through the walls.

We keep our windows open, exhaust fans on high, but there is no escape. Should they have guests over, who are also smokers, we literally choke to death and can not breathe. When I approached my two neighbors, they actually lied to my face and told me they did not smoke. Can you imagine?  No other person in our building is affected by their second-hand smoke. So, because there is only one complainant, us, the rest of our fellow neighbors have fought us every step of the way to convert our building into a smoke free environment. We did manage to have The Board enforce a non-smoking rule in the common areas around the building (no smoking in hallways, front and back walkways, elevators and lanais) as of January 1, 2018. As a result, the rest of the building occupants have sworn to get this new rule reversed because they ‘don’t want anyone telling them what to do or how to live‘!

Never mind that inhaling second-hand smoke kills infants, children and the elderly.

To be fair, Florida, the state where our retirement condo is located, has enforced a few non-smoking laws. I’ve been in close contact with The Department Of Health as whole teams have been recently established to help eliminate second-hand smoke throughout the state. Last year all smoking has been banned in state-owned public housing. If you’re caught smoking, you’re quickly evicted. A few construction companies have caught on to the new non-smoking trend and non-smoking condos/apartments are being built. 87% of Floridians do not smoke and of those people, almost all of them want to eliminate the dangers people can incur from inhaling second-hand smoke.

Our complex, which provides all types of housing to thousands of home owners, just recently banned smoking from inside ALL community buildings and 50 feet from the external side of the buildings. There is absolutely NO smoking in any community common areas. They have not or can not stop anyone from smoking inside their own homes and that is a shame.

After a year, DH and I have exhausted whatever simple actions human beings can take in this time and era to protect ourselves from the perils of inhaling second-hand smoke. (DH has been President of The Board this past year BUT will NOT be re-enlisting. His term ends in March) Our only option (so we thought) is to move. But there is NO guarantee that our next living arrangement will be free from second-hand smoke, unless we move into an established smoke free environment. Good luck with that! DH and I did go on a house hunting adventure this past week and came to a different conclusion. Why should WE move? We’re not the smokers. We’re not making anyone else’s life miserable. We’re not endangering any one else’s health. So, I called back some of the health connections that I made and got a few leads on retaining legal counsel.

DH and I are seriously thinking of commencing a lawsuit against the smoking violators AND if we do, we will probably win in court. Smokers have absolutely no rights. They are a nuisance and a menace to society. It’s a disgusting, habitual, addictive habit.

DH and I have come to the conclusion that we LOVE our new home and we are going to fight to remain here. Of the 100 qualities our home is known for, 99 of them are positive. One thing (and it’s a major thing) is standing in our way of happiness.

There is no such thing as a legal “right to smoke.” Residents are entitled to breathe clean, smokefree air at home. The Bureau of Tobacco Free Florida has identified more than 1,130 multi-unit properties, more than 186,000 smokefree housing units, and 66 condos in the state that are smokefree.

Wish us luck.



  1. Wow! Here comes my opinion—I would move. Suing is expensive and if you lose you have to pay their fees as well. You will also expose your condo to unwanted attention IF you ever want to sell it—the value….
    The South and West tend to be “rights of the individual to do with their property as they wish” as the cited article states. Remember that the write up you posted- the people lost and but the lawyers still got paid. Sorry. Plus- you will have your entire condo siding for or against you—OW! My sister did this, now cannot sell and it is NOT pretty four years later. You could be lucky and they simply rent?
    You have already been through so much. It would be excellent for Nick to have a garage and be settled…maybe this is the hand of God saying—time to move forward?


    • Jan, that’s what I thought: it was the hand of God telling me to move, get a house with a garage, yada, yada, yada. So, we went out looking at houses and the costs are astronomical. There is no way we are going to replicate the already good deal we got plus all the ammenities etc. If God wanted us to move He would have found us another home to move to. On the contrary, I believe God wants us to stay and fight. He’s the one who found us this great condo in the first place. Besides, I think the people downstairs have already destroyed our property value and for that they are going to pay. If some prospective buyer walks into our condo and downstairs people are smoking, you can kiss the sale goodbye anyway. So, what do we have to lose? Other condo owners don’t realize this. They think if you deny someone to smoke THAT lowers property values. Wrong. Its the other way around. Allowing them to smoke destroys property values. Duh?


    • Jan, there’s also another solution: smoke scrubbers. They’re expensive: $900 each. We need two. But they guarantee to take care of the smoke and make our air breathing pure. We have already decided to buy one and try it out in the bedroom. We’ll be receiving it later on this month. Apparently, we are not the only people in the world who suffer from this problem and thankfully technology can assist us. I’ll keep you posted. If it solves our problem, maybe we just call it a day and move onward. Live and learn. And be better prepared next time around.
      Who the heck knew?????


      • Looks like you have found a compromise for now (well, not really a compromise). I am so sorry you have to experience this at all. I don’t think I could take it—but the photos from your balcony are amazing and your walks sound terrific. Maybe you will help those smokers break their habit and live longer??? 🙂


      • Hi Jan. We live in an amazing, blessed place. And we know it was a gift from God. But to get back to the basics, we were just supposed to use this place over the brutal winter months. I think the message from God is that this place is a temporary place for now, one that has value and meaning BUT it is not going to be our final retirement location. That’s the message. Which is fine with us. Life is a series of experiments. We try new things. Some work out. Some don’t. Some are good for a while. Some are not.
        But I will tell you this special story: for the past two days there has been NO smoking downstairs beneath us. Today DH and I saw the mother and daughter who live below us, walking their two dogs and out for a very long walk. We had never seen them outside ever before! So, as to the smokers breaking their habits?……….nothing surprises me anymore. Except that we enjoyed two lovely days so far. The sun was shining and the air was clean.
        Wish us luck (and PS, I am praying like a banchee each and every day!)


  2. So glad you wrote this post! I had no idea until you mentioned it in one of the comments. As someone who has considered the possibility of eventually selling our home in South Florida and moving to a condo this would never have occurred to me. The thought of having smokers stink up my walls would drive me insane. Not only that but my husband is asthmatic and would not be able to tolerate that. Thanks for a great post and educating the rest of us hope everything works out.


    • You’re welcome, Teri. I realized NO ONE thought of this. When I told my doctor, she and her husband were in the middle of buying a condo! They had no idea and quickly scratched the purchase! There are some multi-family dwellings that are 100% smoke free and they are being built more and more. Nick and I have found a solution for our condo right now, plus we will be here less often now (Le sigh!) as we had originally planned. We both have heart conditions and don’t need this aggravation.
      Thanks for your comment. And good luck to you!


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