Activists fight to clear smoke from Queens apartment buildings

By Juan Soto

Hilltop Village in Holliswood has about 500 smoke-free apartments.

And for Phil Konigsberg, a smoke-free advocate, that’s the closest one can get to heaven on earth.

For the past five years, the Bay Terrace resident has been pushing for smoke-free multiple-family housing residences. He drafted a resolution with that objective, and he is presenting it to community boards across he borough.

“You go to restaurants, stores, public indoor places and they have a smoke-free protective law,” Konigsberg said. “But you spend at least half a day in your house and you are not really protected.”

Konigsberg said that in apartment buildings, such as condos and co-ops, smoke from cigarettes can penetrate into a non-smoker’s home through walls, hallways, vents and electrical outlets. “Having smoke-free buildings is something I strongly believe in,” he said.

When Hilltop Village announced the smoke-free environment back in 2013, representatives from Long Island Jewish Medical center and the Queens Smoke Free Partnership, a nonprofit, said their goal was to eliminate cigarette smoke from residential housing units in Queens by alerting the public to risks caused by smoking.

“Much of the air in apartment buildings is shared among the residents,” Yvette Buckner-Jackson, from the Queens Smoke Free Partnership said at the time. “This air travels through the unit through vents, cracks, outlets — it’s a huge issue.”

Hilltop Village is at 87-50 204th St.

Konigberg said that once smoke gets into an apartment, it stays there.

The advocate said he presented his proposal, in collaboration with the Queens Smoke Free Partnership and the New York City Coalition for a Smoke-free City, to seven of the 14 community boards in Queens, and to another one in Staten Island.

The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene estimated the adult smoking population in the city is about 16.1 percent, up from just 14 percent in 2010.

Currently, there are no laws preventing apartment owners and landlords from adopting a smoke-free practice, according to the New York City Coalition for a Smoke-free City.

Konigsberg knows he is in the middle of an uphill battle, but recently his proposition was passed by Community Board 7 in Flushing and Community Board 11 in Bayside. The approval is non-binding.

He also spoke at CB 6 in Forest Hills, CB 8 in Hollis, CB 9 in Kew Gardens, CB10 in South Ozone Park and CB13 in Queens Village. By next March, he expects to complete his Queens community boards round. “Some community boards find the proposal very controversial,” he said.

The resolution adopted by CB 7 and CB 11 “provided me with great encouragement to continue the fight,” Konigbsberg said.

He hopes his efforts will pay off citywide.

“The idea is one day to have the City Council approve a law for smoke-free housing” he said.

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at jsoto‌@cngl‌ocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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