Is every man’s home his castle, even though his smoking on an apartment balcony or in shared spaces poisons and upsets his neighbors? That saying was first voiced by 16th-century English judge Sir Edward Coke in a ruling that there were strict limits on how sheriffs may enter a person’s house in order to issue orders from a legal authority.
Now, a voluntary Israeli organization called Avir Naki (“Clean Air”) and individuals disgusted, nauseated and suffering from lung cancer and heart disease caused by their neighbors’ tobacco smoke have taken an important initiative. They have petitioned the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem against the Environmental Protection, Home Security and Health Ministries to issue an order that would protect apartment residents from being exposed to their neighbors’ smoke.
A survey conducted last month on public exposure and opinions about the matter found that half of the apartment dwellers were exposed to forced smoking frequently, at least once a day or at least once every few weeks. Since the adult population in Israel numbers 5.7 million people, then between 2,720,000 and 2,980,000 people are exposed to forced smoking in their apartment at least every few weeks. It was also found that a total of 40% of nonsmokers (who constitute about 80% of the population) are exposed frequently to the tobacco smoke of their neighbors. Even 48% of smokers complained about being forced to breathe in their neighbors’ smoke.
About three-quarters of all the respondents (77%) said that measures should be taken to ensure that tobacco smoke does not penetrate from one apartment to another.
The petition, prepared by lawyer Amos Hausner, the chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, said that the Israeli authorities underestimate the very serious health consequences of the toxic fumes that constitute environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and the health risks to both children and adults. There is no safe level of exposure to ETS, said the plaintiffs, citing the opinion of experts.
“Immediate regulatory action is urgently needed to protect all citizens from the intrusion of tobacco smoke into private apartments in multi-tenant-unit buildings,” asserted Prof. Leah Rosen, a public health expert on smoking dangers at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine. “Even exposure to small quantities of tobacco smoke can be dangerous for some individuals” she added.
The petitioners argue that smoking qualifies as a pollutant under the Clean Air Law of 2008 and therefore the petition does not involve making new rules but rather enforcing already-existing laws regarding pollutants. They also argue that at least four of the poisons in tobacco smoke are included in the list of pollutants prohibited by the first addendum to the Clean Air Law. The petition also states that the Israel Police must not refuse to receive complaints regarding the violation of section 222 of the Penal Code, 1981, which punishes with three years in prison those who voluntarily pollute the air in a manner that injures the health of neighbor.
Among those who have complained to the health authorities about neighbors’ tobacco smoke included people who suffered from cancer and whose health was endangered by ENS; and people who suffered headaches, nausea, mental anguish and had to undergo the insertion of cardiac stents; his doctors asked him how long he had smoked, but he never smoked. The Health Ministry often passed the buck, sending them to the Environmental Protection Ministry or the Israel Police, which did not help them bring a halt to the phenomenon. According to the petition, the issue is a “hot potato” that was thrown by one authority to another.