What can a law declaring secondhand smoke a “nuisance” do?

Nuisance is just one approach advocates are taking to remedy the problem of drifting tobacco smoke, especially in multi-unit housing. It is important to understand that a law declaring secondhand smoke a nuisance does not provide any direct relief from drifting secondhand smoke, nor does it prohibit smoking. The only way someone can benefit from a nuisance ordinance is by bringing a lawsuit. A nuisance declaration may make such a lawsuit more feasible, because it makes it easier for a resident affected by drifting secondhand smoke to prove his/her case in court—but it does not guarantee victory.

A nuisance ordinance may be seen as a good interim step because it allows for the possibility of relief through a lawsuit for people who have few other options. But this type of ordinance cannot achieve large-scale protections from exposure to secondhand smoke. A local law creating smokefree multi-unit housing, bar or restaurant patios, and other areas are better ways to protect people from secondhand smoke.