Waterloo Region’s new smoking ban — the first of its kind in Ontario — will undoubtedly have its critics. For the record, the bylaw that banned smoking in public spaces and indoor places a decade ago also had its critics yet today we’re almost universally lauded for the effort. But I’m getting side-tracked already.

The new ban, which takes effect April 1st, effectively puts an end to smoking in multi-unit public housing dwellings (apartments, townhouse complexes, etc.). It makes sense to me on a number of levels, not the least of which is the right of a non-smoker to breathe air that is as clean as possible. If you’re living in a unit that adjoins a smoker’s unit, you know full well that the second-hand smoke will infiltrate your home. The effects of second-hand smoke are well documented and go well beyond an unpleasant nuisance. A smoker’s rights stop where a non-smoker’s rights start, in my opinion.

Of late, there has been more discussion about third-hand smoke and its effects. Third-hand smoke is the stuff that sets into clothing, upholstery, walls and the like and the latest research suggests exposure to it can be just as harmful in the long term as exposure to second-hand smoke. I’m not convinced on this point yet but I’ll definitely buy into the nuisance argument here. Have you ever had to settle for a smoking hotel room? Or what about when visiting the home of a friend who smokes? The stench permeates every nook and cranny of the dwelling and whether its long term effects are harmful to your health or not who, as a non-smoker, wants to move into a unit that smells like that?

The obvious criticism, of course, is that the region is really poking its nose in private places here. And it’s true. In effect, the region is telling people they can’t smoke in their own homes. Yes, there is a grandfathering clause whereby people who smoke in their apartments or townhouses now can continue to do so unless they choose to move. New residents, however, will have to agree to a non-smoking clause before moving in. And the region is also offering assistance to those who do smoke. Free smoking cessation programs will be provided in hopes of helping others kick the habit. I’m okay with all of this, right down to monitoring what people are doing in their own homes. Is it Big Brotheresque and, by extension, a little creepy? You bet your dirty ash tray it is. But it’s also for the good of your own health.

Imagine you were walking down the street and saw someone running repeatedly, head first, into a light standard. Would you intervene? Or what if you knew someone who had a tendency to self-mutilate, was perhaps even suicidal. Would you feel comfortable leaving them alone at home, knowing what they might do while you’re gone? In my mind, the same holds true for smoking. It will kill you; of that there is no longer any doubt. So by turning a blind eye just because people are doing it in their own home are we not, on some level, shunning our moral obligation to help where we can?

We all win when smoking stops. This new bylaw brings us another step closer.