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Truce Reached in Smoking Fight at Condo Building

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17. Truce Reached in Smoking Fight at Condo Building

Marc Hansen

Des Moines Register
August 30, 2007

It didn't make the headlines, but peace and understanding seem to be breaking out between the smoking and nonsmoking factions at 3663 Grand.

The détente is momentary, I'm guessing, as the tobacco wars continue to escalate in this country. But it's nice, for a change, to see smokers and nonsmokers living in harmony.

Earlier this summer, the West Grand Towers board of directors got the residents riled up by going into closed, executive session and banning smoking throughout the condominium complex - individual units included.

Not just on the grounds and in the common areas anymore, but in living rooms and kitchens as well. With no grandfather clause for the smokers who arrived when smoking was permitted.

One of the veteran smokers I talked to had just moved in. He and his wife, he said, felt as if they'd been "bushwhacked."

They weren't the only ones who criticized the decision. Many of the nonsmokers even thought it was an extreme move.

Before you start bossing folks around, telling them what they can and can't do in the privacy of their homes, you'd better have a life-or-death reason. At the very least, they said, put it to a building-wide vote.

The board members at 3663, to their credit, listened to the objections and agreed to suspend the policy until July 30. In the meantime, they would consider all options and suggestions.

The board also established a smoking committee, whose members sit around all day and chain smoke. No, not really. They address smoking-related concerns and issues.

The immediate goal is reaching a reasonable compromise when it comes to tackling the smoking problem in their building.

It's an elegant-looking place in a tree-lined west-side location. But it's pushing 45, and the second-hand smoke has been known to seep into nearby units.

Several owners told me they could run from the stench but they couldn't hide. They'd throw towels over the vents. They'd hunker down in the bathroom. Nothing worked.

This week, the smoking committee made its suggestion to the board:

Forget the ban. Forget about having the owners vote on extending the no-smoking policy to the individual units. Let the committee handle issues as they arise.

Encourage offending smokers to equip their homes with air purifiers. Proceed with plans to have an expert look at the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system.

Next month, the board will discuss and consider those suggestions and decide how to proceed.

Smoking ban advocate John Viars senses an improvement already.

"I got off the elevator," he said, "and sniff, sniff, sniff, couldn't detect any smoke."

Could it be? The smokers are being more considerate?

Viars, a board member, also submitted his resignation. He and his wife are moving. Not because of the smoke, he said, but because they want a place with more room when the grandkids visit.

It wasn't a decisive victory for the smokers, but it wasn't a loss. And maybe that's the headline here.

Eventually, the way the growing nonsmoking majority is ganging up on the shrinking minority, there will be a vote and the smokers will lose.

Smoking condo seekers around the country will be turned away like high-risk loan applicants. If not, simple attrition will get them in the end.

Most smokers have given up the fight. They know the game is lost. They don't need a no-smoking sign. They wouldn't dare smoke in your home and a growing number won't even smoke in their own.

You still run into tobacco-cured warriors like Richard Maynard, the Iowa coordinator for the Smokers' Club Inc.

You give him the surgeon general's data on the hazards of second-hand smoke. He directs you to tobacco analysis.blogspot.com and tells you to Google a Dr. Michael Siegel, who says, "Science used to set the agenda. Now, the agenda is dictating the science."

Maynard makes some interesting points, but even he knows he's an endangered species, like smoking itself.

It was a different world 50 years ago when smoking was the national pastime, when physicians and star athletes appeared in cigarette ads.

Now, in the 21st century, athletes who shoot steroids wouldn't think of lighting up. Smoking has been deemed unhealthy, unsightly and worse. It could ruin their image.


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