Controlling smoke drift in apartments: A need for greater regulation?

| February 29, 2012

Dr Penman from Cancer Council NSW says the review of the State’s strata and community title laws offers an opportunity to advocate strengthening strata law for apartment dwellers who want to protect themselves from tobacco smoke drift in their home.

At Cancer Council NSW the vast majority of passive smoking-related public enquires we receive from the general public are from people seeking advice on what they can do about tobacco smoke drifting into their homes from other parts of their apartment block. 

Often the enquiries are from parents of babies and other young children, from people with chronic respiratory illnesses and from people with other disabilities who necessarily spend much of their time at home.  Invariably, attempts to resolve the issue by talking directly with those smoking have been unsuccessful.  Often, attempts to encourage owners’ corporations to address the issue also fail.  Some strata executive committee office holders reportedly claim “nothing can be done” to resolve the problem (this is completely untrue; owners’ corporations can adopt smoke-free by-laws through the adoption of a special resolution).

The risks to health from second-hand tobacco smoke exposure are well documented in the medical literature.  After all, tobacco smoke contains an estimated 4,000 chemical compounds including 66 carcinogens.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified second-hand smoke as a Group 1 carcinogen (as is asbestos).  Smoke-free public place and workplace laws are based on recognition of the serious health impacts of second-hand smoke exposure.

Great strides are being made in the United States and Canada in successfully addressing the problem of smoke drift in apartment blocks in both the private housing sector and public housing.  During the decade 2000 to 2010 the numbers of smoke-free apartment blocks in the US grew exponentially from almost nil to a situation in which smoke-free multi-unit housing was available in virtually every state with many states having thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of smoke-free units”. As at January 2011 at least 230 US local public housing authorities had adopted smoke-free policies for some or all of their apartment buildings.  In California, by the end of 2011, sixteen local government jurisdictions had laws requiring at least 75% of units in apartment complexes to be smoke-free.

While there would appear to be an absence of published reports on the extent of smoke-free multi-unit housing in Australia, recent media reports suggest there is a nascent trend in the adoption of strata scheme by-laws that mandate smoke-free apartment complexes.

The NSW Government’s proposed review of the State’s strata and community title laws is timely for those apartment dwellers who want to protect themselves from tobacco smoke drift in their home.  The review offers an opportunity to advocate strengthening strata law for this purpose.  While, as indicated above, the law does allow owners’ corporations to address the problem, too often we hear of frustrations in the process.  Cancer Council therefore has a number of suggestions for strengthening the laws.  These include:

  • Definitions of ‘nuisance’ and ‘hazard’ be included in the legislation, recognising that second-hand tobacco smoke is both a nuisance and serious health hazard
  • The legislation should explicitly establish that any tobacco smoke that drifts into any residential lot a person owns, leases or rents is a hazard
  • A smoking-related model by-law should be included in the Strata Schemes Management Regulation 2010 (Part 9.27)
  • Smoking-related Orders should be included in Chapter 5, Part 4 (Orders of Adjudicator) of the Strata Scheme Schemes Management Act 1996
  • Adopt in law the recommendation of the Commonwealth Government-appointed National Preventive Health Taskforce that: All state governments … legislate to require leases for multi-unit apartment buildings and condominium sales agreements to include the terms governing smoking.
  • Introduce a requirement that all new strata developments comprise sections of developments that are subject to mandatory smoke-free environment rules.

Strata law and related judicial processes need to exhibit recognition of the public health and civil benefits of preventing involuntary second-hand smoke exposure in residential settings.


Strata Consultation Questions:
Q1. What are the main areas of the existing strata and community scheme laws you would like to see changed?
Q2. Can you see any future issues that need to be addressed in the legislation?
Q3. How could the management of strata and community schemes be improved?
Q4. Are there any changes needed to the way disputes in strata and community schemes are resolved?


As CEO of Cancer Council NSW since 1998, Dr Andrew Penman is determined to not only improve the lives of cancer patients, but to work towards a goal that sees cancer defeated. When he’s not thinking or talking health, you’ll find him practicing Hindi and cooking feasts for family and friends.



  1. nonsmokersmovement

    February 28, 2012 at 3:03 am

    Declare all smokefree with opt-in to smoke only allowed if prove

    As declared previously in comment on Anne Jones’s blog, it’s important, with this opportunity to amend Strata Law, to protect everybody from the well-documented hazard of tobacco smoke, and to declare all strata property smokefree with an option for smoking only if it can be proven not to affect and/or harm others.

    If you can smell the tobacco smoke, then it’s going into your lungs and your family’s and doing harm.

    Smokers may have a dubious and restricted right to use tobacco but not where they may cause harm to others.

    Margaret Hogge, Non-Smokers’ Movement of Australia Inc.


      February 29, 2012 at 3:55 am

      Cigarette Smoke Drift is insufferable !

      For the past 5 years I have tried communicating with my next door neighbour to stop smoking on his balcony above my apartment and sending his smoke fumes into my lounge room. I have also asked him to stop throwing his cigarette butts and ash, into my courtyard paving and garden. But no amount of discussion or requests made any difference. So I moved.

      Only to discover I now have the same problem with my new next door neighbour. This time the smoke permeates all the way through my apartment and into the bedrooms.

      Ironically these smokers have a problem with polluting their own homes with smoke, (which is why they are smoking ourside) and yet have no conscience with polluting the publically shared spaces, air and pavements around them with their smoke and butts. 

      This has got to change.

      Where are my rights to clean air ???