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Boston’s largest condo goes smoke-free

Residents vote on third attempt to ban practice

In a sign of the growing reach of public health and antitobacco forces, Boston’s largest condominium complex has voted to go smoke free.

New residents at the 624-unit waterfront Harbor Towers, on East India Row near New England Aquarium, won’t be allowed to smoke, under an amendment to the condo association’s bylaws made official Tuesday.

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Smoking will be prohibited in all common areas inside the two 40-story luxury high rises, in addition to virtually all outside areas and within each unit.

The amendment contains a provision that will allow current residents, both owners and renters, to continue smoking in their units. When a unit is sold or rented to a new tenant, the smoking ban kicks in for that space, too.

Over roughly the past decade, Harbor Towers owners twice rejected rules that would have banned smoking outright, with no grandfather provision to exempt current smokers’ units.

This time, the condo’s trustees opted for a middle ground, and unit owners voted roughly 80 percent in favor of the new rules. The ban needed at least 75 percent approval.

About 14 percent of owners in Tower I and 13 percent in Tower II voted against the provision.

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“We did this out of a sense of fairness,’’ said Kitty Armstrong, who chairs the board of trustees for Harbor Towers II. “If you buy a unit with the expectation that you can smoke in it and you have lived here 40 years, to be told you have to move or quit smoking seemed unnecessarily harsh.’’

Studies have shown that breathing secondhand cigarette smoke can cause asthma attacks, respiratory infections, lung cancer, and heart disease, and Armstrong said health concerns were a driving factor.

“The age of the building means it’s not as well insulated and cigarette smoke travels,’’ she said. “If I smoke in my unit, it’s smellable in my next door neighbor’s.’’

The new rules allow trustees to asses penalties for violators, but Armstrong said the board has not yet finalized those details. She also said the trustees did not survey residents to know how many are smokers.

Linda Harvey, a 21-year resident, voted no. She said she understood the push to ban smoking in common areas, but drew a line at her front door.

“I am a big believer in not being governed by the nanny state,’’ said Harvey, a smoker who is trying to quit. “To me, it’s a matter of what your rights are within your own home. It just goes against my grain.’’

Harbor Towers becomes the 23d condo association in Suffolk County in the past two years to pass an antismoking amendment to its rules, said Christopher Banthin, a lawyer working with Northeastern University’s Public Health Advocacy Institute. Nineteen of those went totally smoke free, Banthin said, while the other four contained a grandfather provision similar to that of Harbor Towers.

Banthin said he has seen one legal challenge nationwide to a condo’s smoking ban, and that was in a 10-unit Colorado condo. A court, he said, upheld the ban.

In Suffolk County, the smaller condo associations have tended to go totally smoke free, and larger ones have phased in rules like Harbor Towers, Banthin said.

The Residences at the Ritz-Carlton Towers, Boston Common was a pioneer among large condo associations. In September, the 132 units of the north high-rise went completely smoke free, with no grandfather clause, and the 63 units of the low-rise followed suit earlier this year, said Peter Wittenborg, president of Millennium Place North High-Rise Residential Association.

Wittenborg said the change has gone relatively smoothly, although one condo owner negotiated an early end to the lease to expedite the tenant’s departure.

The Ritz condo association sends owners a written warning for the first infraction, a $500 penalty for the second, and pursues court action after that, Wittenborg said.

So far, the association has not had to take anyone to court.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com.

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