I smoke. It’s not a habit I’m proud of and I don’t encourage it.
I don’t smoke very much and I can go for days without a cigarette. But when I feel like smoking, I’d like to be afforded the privacy to do so, especially since I try my best to be a nuisance to nobody while I am at it.
Which is why I make it a point to smoke only where it is legal to do so, in Singapore or anywhere else on this planet. And in any shared space, I make sure my smoking doesn’t bother anybody, even if I am not breaking any law.
This week, residents of [email protected] were reportedly fuming after receiving a circular from their management agent saying they should not smoke on their balconies and in areas near their windows. The circular apparently cited a clause from the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act (BMSMA) which prohibits owners from doing anything that can be a nuisance to others.
Some residents found this heavy-handed and overreaching. I understand the outrage of the residents who feel that they should not be restricted from smoking in what is obviously their private property.
However, the circular purportedly informed residents that they should not be smoking at their balconies. It was not an outright ban. In any case, the by-laws of the premises will have to be altered to ban smoking in balconies before it can be enforced.
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Which is why I thought the reaction to the circular was quite unnecessary.
My wife and I smoke at the balcony of our apartment, and I can see how that can be an inconvenience to neighbours even though that balcony is pretty much private property.
Whether you’re a smoker or not, you’d know that cigarette smoke does not go straight into your lungs, nor does it remain there. The smoker exhales and the smoke wafts upwards or sideways, and could very well drift into the units next to or above yours.
As a smoker, I’m not bothered by cigarette smoke. But I have seen how it makes some non-smokers tear, or choke, especially if they have respiratory problems. It’s even worse if the person suffering from one of a plethora of respiratory problems is a young child. The second-hand smoke may be very diffused by the time it ascends to the upper unit, but it remains potentially irritating because not everyone enjoys the smell of cigarette smoke.
Consider the poor chap living next to you or upstairs: You wouldn’t like your neighbour stinking up your home, which is what you could be doing to him.
Your cigarette butts could be a nuisance to your neighbours, too, especially to those living below your unit. And I’m not even accusing you of throwing them out of your window or from your balcony, but let me explain.
For a period of time, I was wondering why the person who lived below our unit seemed so unhappy each time he saw me, even though I had been quite polite and friendly, greeting him whenever I saw him coming into the lift or at the carpark.
One day, I saw him in a pub I sometimes go to, and the proprietor, an old friend, told me he had complained to her once about the people living above his unit.
“He said they throw their cigarette butts and these sometimes land on his balcony,” said the proprietor. “He said that a few times, the cigarette butts landed on the clothes he hung out to dry,” she added. I gulped.
“You live in the unit above his?” asked the proprietor. “Guilty, as charged,” I replied.
Only then did it occur to me how offensive I must have been to the poor chap. I did not deliberately throw cigarette butts from my balcony, though. It was just that our ashtray was placed on the parapet, and when it was full of cigarette butts, a gust of wind would blow a few of these out, over the edge and down to the balcony below, annoying the hell out of my neighbour.
I offered an unreserved apology for our transgressions which our neighbour accepted graciously, but not after moving the ashtray so that the offence would not be repeated. Now the only chance our neighbour below getting inconvenienced by cigarette butts is if our cats started smoking, which I hope never happens because they are annoying enough without doing so.
So, back to that condo on Upper Thomson Road.
Smokers in Singapore are feeling suffocated, as the areas where they can do so legally seem to shrink by the day. I did not get my hands on that circular, and I do not know or care if it is part of a drive towards making Singapore a smoke-free nation. Whatever the case, it is my view – even as a smoker – that we should do so without irritating, inconveniencing or endangering anyone. If you live there, or anywhere in our very compact city, just check that your smoking doesn’t cause any harm to your neighbours. Talk to them.
“Does my smoking at the balcony bother you? Is there a period when your kids are not around that I can smoke? Do you mind closing off your balcony for a little while? Maybe for just 10 minutes so I can smoke?”
You get the drift. It’s about being considerate. If we all did that, no circulars dictating our behaviour becomes necessary. And all smokers do not have to quit smoking immediately.
Even if that’s something I wish my wife and I could do.