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Classify second-hand smoke drifting into homes as a nuisance

We commemorate World No Tobacco Day on May 31, but for those in Singapore whose neighbours smoke, the reality will be a far cry from that.

We commemorate World No Tobacco Day on May 31, but for those in Singapore whose neighbours smoke, the reality will be a far cry from that.

More than 90 per cent of us live in multi-unit housing. If someone drinks alcohol at home, they are not harming anyone. But smoking is different; smoke cannot be contained.

Second-hand smoke has an impact on others’ enjoyment of their own residence, effectively removing their right to a safe, healthy environment. As the United States Surgeon General has warned, there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.

Personal autonomy is not tantamount to unrestrained freedom. In the absence of smoke-free housing, cigarette/cigar smoking should be considered a disturbance if smoke drifts into a residential unit more than once a week for at least two consecutive weeks.

In Utah, if a nuisance is proven, the plaintiff may request an injunction that requires the nuisance to cease, as well as damages. In the City of Calabasas, California, the city council has declared that “exposing other persons to second-hand smoke constitutes a public nuisance and may be remedied as such”. Action may be brought by an individual or the City Attorney.

The plaintiff may receive actual damages or US$250 (S$340) for each violation; restitution; exemplary damages if oppression, fraud, malice or conscious disregard for the public health and safety is proven clearly and convincingly; legal fees; or an injunction.

In the City of Dublin, California, second-hand smoke constitutes a nuisance, and a citizen may take legal action to abate such a nuisance.

In 2013, a strata law reform in New South Wales, Australia, was proposed to “clarify that any smoke that drifts into a residential lot may be regarded as a nuisance or a hazard” and to ban smoking that “interferes unreasonably” with another resident’s use of a lot.

Canadian courts have been sympathetic to the plight of non-smokers exposed unwillingly to second-hand smoke drifting into their homes. Cases have been won on the premise of nuisance, as well as a breach of the covenant of peaceful enjoyment.

Our policymakers should study precedents in the US, Australia and Canada and take effective action to protect non-smokers from the daily assault of toxic smoke from neighbours.

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