Smoking in Condos – Fire Hazard, Health Issue and Litter

July 2015

Balconies are often where smokers go to avoid smelling up their condo suite. When finished, throwing still lit cigarette butts off the balcony is a danger to those below, a fire hazard and litter which someone must clean up.

Improperly discarding still lit cigarette butts and matches is a serious fire hazard. In 1977, a discarded lit match on an escalator at the King’s Cross subway station in London UK resulted in the deaths of 31 people and 100 people taken to hospital. Hundreds of people were trapped.

In Toronto and surrounding areas there have been numerous fires in condominiums as a result of burning cigarettes landing on balconies.

A high-rise condo is not the same as a subway station. Yet the results of a fire can be equally serious. A fire in a condo building can cause substantial damage, increase costs for all residents and result in displacement of a large number of people.

In July 2014, a fire in an Edmonton condo building caused $10 million in damage and displaced about 400 residents. The fire was traced to a cigarette butt someone attempted to extinguish in a flower pot. That year Edmonton experienced 52 fires related to smokers’ material. In May 2015, a cigarette butt discarded in a diaper pail caused a $16.3 million fire. A four storey building in Edmonton was destroyed and left up to 200 people homeless. In the past ten years that city has experienced more than 700 fires and seven deaths caused by smokers’ material. Damages amount to more than $50 million.

In British Columbia, there has been a push to ban smoking in buildings for ten years. Throughout the province fewer than 15% are smokers but nearly half live in condos and apartment buildings. Some condo buildings in the province have voted to ban smoking within suites and levy fines for noncompliance.

Second-hand smoke can result in health problems and odours in other suites in a building.

The Canadian Cancer Society reports that second-hand smoke contains 70 carcinogens and kills 800 Canadians each year. Second-hand smoke can harm pregnant women and children. It is linked to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Those with allergies or asthma, people or pets, can be affected.

Condominium corporations have a responsibility to address complaints of second-hand smoke if there is evidence that the smoke is “unreasonably” disturbing residents. This can be considered a nuisance to which a condominium corporation is required to act.

Electronic cigarettes do not offer a solution. While they do not give off smoke and do not stain or burn furnishings, electronic cigarettes have been linked to fires. Scented versions may also create odours that can migrate to neighbouring suites. Electronic cigarettes have been found to contain up to ten times the amount of toxic chemicals as cigarettes. The long term risks of ingesting these toxins are not yet known.

From cleaning up debris to fires, odours and health problems, smoking is one activity not conducive with condo living.

More information about smoking in condominium buildings is available through the Smoke-Free Housing Ontario website.