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Balcony smoking ban applications rare, process may be simplified

Fewer than 200 Finnish housing companies have applied for balcony smoking bans since they became a legal option.

Banning smoking in apartment buildings is not an easy process. Image: Pasi Partanen / Yle

Fewer than 200 Finnish housing companies have applied to ban cigarette smoking on apartment building balconies. The discretionary ban was made possible by a law change in 2017.

The Finnish Real Estate Federation reports that 58 properties have a standing ban on balcony smoking in Helsinki, while 37 applications are still being handled. In Turku, 17 buildings have banned such smoking, while four applications are pending.

Turku city health inspector Markku Rohunen estimates that based on all the inquiries sent in when the right first took effect, there should be 10 times as many housing companies with such prohibitions.

"Perhaps the companies feel that the application process is too heavy to handle?" Rohunen said.

Other sources corroborate Rohunen's stance. The head of the Real Estate Federation's south-western branch, Juuso Kallio, said that there are two main reasons for the scarcity of smoking bans.

"First, housing companies have found the process to be too convoluted. It requires a great deal of background work and bureaucracy," Kallio said.

The second issue is monitoring; a ban can be enforced after a housing company reports an observed offense to the police, who must then investigate and interrogate the accused. If the person repeats their offense, they may get slapped with a fine.

None of this is easily doable under the current system, Kallio said.

The smoking ban law package also includes a section that allows for smoking to be banned inside apartments. Only a handful of such applications have been submitted in Finland.

Authorities out of the picture?

Rohunen argues that the law should be overhauled to make it simpler to follow. A single move would bring this about, he said.

"If you ask me, I would exclude the authorities from this process and let the housing companies decide for themselves. It would be easiest for each company to make and sustain the decision, without another level of bureaucracy," Rohunen said.

The proposal may not be far off, as a Health Ministry working group already supported housing company autonomy in May.

"This is a direction that should be taken," director Kallio added. "This would save time and resources for the police as well as the housing companies."

Kallio himself said he was also for imposing a smoking penalty, similar to a parking ticket, for those who break the rule. The ministry group also raised this possibility last spring.

Non-smokers favoured

Prohibiting cigarette smoking on balconies and in apartments may lead to smokers congregating near the front doors of their apartment buildings. A right-of-occupancy company in south-western Finland rewrote their contracts to include a ban on smoking anywhere at all on company grounds.

New contracts beginning from October in apartment buildings owned by Varsinais-Suomen Asumisoikeus Oy (Vaso) forbid smoking indoors, on balconies or anywhere on the property. If a tenant committee decides to construct a smoking outpost, smokers can use that.

"These decisions used to be based on the rights of the smoker. Now we're moving forward with non-smokers' wishes," Vaso CEO Pekka Pelkomäki said.