Second-hand smoke

Everyone in my stairwell smokes. Well, everyone but me and my partner, who happen to live on the top floor. Meaning that with each exhale of the people downstairs, a convoy of smoke somehow finds a way in to our flat, no matter what I do to prevent it.

I didn’t notice the problem until after a few weeks of moving in 12 months ago. I was sitting in my office, well away from the front door, when I got a whiff of fags. I expected to find someone outside the door with a cigarette in their hand, or at least a strong smell that had been lingering in the air for a while. But the air smelt perfectly fresh and clean and there was no one there.

This went on for weeks. Slowly I started to discover hotspots in the apartment, particularly in the kitchen and in the cupboard under the sink. The smell in there always seemed stale and often fresh, as if it was perhaps the main access point for the smoke. Admittedly I started to get paranoid. I didn’t really know the neighbours well enough to say anything, yet I was confident that the guy who lived next to us was a regular smoker – we saw him often leaning out of his kitchen window with a cigarette in hand. He also worked a lot from home, and as our kitchens were technically touching, I decided that this was where the smoke was coming from.

Before I continue, I had better state clearly that this is not a dig at smokers, so stick with me here.

Anyway, after weeks and weeks of cooking in a smelly kitchen, switching on extractor-fans and closing doors tightly behind me, I plucked up the courage to go and speak with him. I simply asked if he thought that our kitchens might be connected in anyway via pipes etc. I told him what was happening and how I was doing my best to prevent the smell from coming in. He agreed that it must be an unpleasant experience and was sorry to hear it, but he always smoked his cigarettes whilst leaning out the window. It did get a bit better after that, however, so I hoped that our little conversation had had some effect.

But by summer it had returned with a vengeance and so had my paranoia. With bedroom windows being left open at night, I started to smell smoke as I was drifting off to sleep. Now the smoke was coming from the lovely old lady who was sitting on her back porch, enjoying her evening outside. Really can’t blame anyone for wanting to do that. But now the smell was getting in to the bathroom, and when I decided to lie down on the kitchen floor to look for cracks, that’s when I noticed just how strong the smell was down there.

It was around this time that I ‘caught’ the woman who lives directly below me with a cigarette in her mouth whilst going up and down the stairs. And this is where I draw the line. You can do whatever you want in the privacy of your own home, but to me it’s not acceptable to smoke in a private stairwell shared by others. When I raised this with the landlord he reminded me that walking down the street was more harmful than a few hours a day of second-hand smoke. He also said that it was perfectly fine to smoke on the stairs. “So it’s OK for me to walk around naked on the stairs, too?” I asked. “I’ll have a word,” he replied.

But the problem still remained. As mentioned before, what people do in their own homes is up to them and has nothing to do with me. But I find it odd that there is no law that states a landlord or housing company has an obligation to improve the insulation between apartments. My problem was the gaps, cracks and holes in the walls and floors of our 1930s apartment block.

When I started telling people about it, I heard similar stories. People who couldn’t escape the smell day after day, so eventually had to move out. Having only just bought our Andel, neither of us wanted to do that, and with our baby on the way it soon became a priority for me. I concluded that the smell must be coming from the couple directly below me. I had never seen her WITHOUT a cigarette, and each time she opened her door a very strong smell smacked you in the face. One evening an ambulance came and took her away and she spent several nights in hospital. I asked if she was OK when she returned and she told me she’d had breathing difficulties and had no idea why. Maybe it’s because you smoke 90 a day, love.

This strange comment led me to investigate the smoking statistics in Denmark. According to , Denmark used to be one of the worst countries in Europe for cigarette consumption. And although the trend is changing for the better, one in four still lights up regularly. It goes on to say that the majority are ‘middle-aged and have the shortest education (less than 10 years worth).’

But even when cycling around the city, it’s not uncommon to see young, attractive girls (I rarely see young men smoking anymore) puffing away, and I think ‘why?’ I understand that smoking is addictive and hard to give up, but it seems to me that it’s also a fashion statement to some. Hard to believe in 2014.

Back at the flat, I’d managed to use an old pizza box and some tape to seal up the gaps between the wall and the floor in the hallway. I’ve used a similar method for the cupboard under the sink, and yet just this morning as I was about to wash the dishes I could smell cigarette smoke coming up through the drain pipe in the sink itself. Now that’s a new one.

I’d be very interested to hear your experiences on this subject. I’ve lived in many flats before moving to Denmark and have never experienced this before, yet it seems I’m not the only one. Is is something to do with the architecture of certain buildings from the 30s and 40s? I can’t imagine modern apartments having the same issues. Furthermore, let me know how you’ve solved it (if you have!)