Cracking Down on Unwanted Smoking Device is Solution for Multifamily Homes

A new device can detect cigarette and marijuana smoke and then send out an alert. (FreshAir Sensor)

For those who live in multifamily residential buildings, the scenario is all too familiar: a neighbor lights up a cigarette inside their unit, and the smoke travels through the hallway and finds its way into neighboring residents’ homes. Sometimes we know who the culprit is and sometimes we don't. Either way, it's a nuisance that can pose dangerous health hazards for everyone in the building.

According to the American Lung Association, second-hand smoke has been attributed to more than 7,300 deaths from lung cancer and nearly 34,000 deaths from heart disease annually. The organization adds that 37 percent of children in the U.S. have been exposed to second-hand smoke.

Now a company based out of Lebanon, New Hampshire is looking to crack down on those who smoke in prohibited areas. Called FreshAir Sensor, the company developed a plug-in device that cannot only detect nicotine and marijuana in the air through sensor technology, but it can report where the violation occurred and measure the amount of smoke. Since April, this new monitoring detector—which costs $120 plus a $4 month monitoring fee—has been sold to property managers and hotels, says FreshAir Sensor founder and president Jack O’Toole, who notes that pilot programs are taking place in a number of multifamily dwellings.

“Smoking in multifamily housing is a huge problem,” says O'Toole. “About two-thirds of people living in multifamily housing are unwillingly exposed to smoking during an average year. So our detector will allow people who are property management companies, co-op boards and condo associations to ensure that everybody's living up to their agreement in places that don't allow smoking.”

How Does It Work

O'Toole and his partner Joe BelBruno, a chemistry professor at Dartmouth College, developed a polymer-based sensor that behaves like a biological receptor. “When that target molecule comes along, it binds to a sensor,” says O'Toole. “And we measure the presence and amount of that target molecule by changing electrical properties on the sensor. So it's really sensitive, and it's really specific.”


Related Articles

Q&A: Smoking and Shared Terraces

Q&A: Smoking and Shared Terraces

Q&A: My Rights Are Up in Smoke

Q&A: My Rights Are Up in Smoke

Maintaining Air Quality

Managing the Indoor Environment

Securing Air Quality in the COVID-19 Era

HVAC, HEPA Filters, & UV Disinfection

Q&A: What to Do About a Smoking Neighbor?

Q&A: What to Do About a Smoking Neighbor?

The Modern Way to Handle Marijuana Smoke

Are Changing Attitudes on Pot Affecting House Rules?



  • Funny thing all anyone has to do is wrap a plastic bag around the unit and it's cutoff from operation unless now miraculously smoke can travel thru a sealed material! Now when we know that SHS is not a hazard to anyone at all because it's chemical make up is already measured by the SG report of 1989 page 80 states it's 96% water vapor and ordinairy air! The amount of nicotine present is so low cooking any nicotine containing food like potatoes would likely set it off! As far as costs of apartments and such costing 8000 bucks is complete imagination! Every apartment gets repainted and cleaned prior to being sold it rented again anyway and it sure never cost more than a few hundred bucks tops usually no more than a hundred bucks as these places use the same paint for every unit to begin with to keep costs down! OSHA allows mountains of nicotine in the air before any hazzard will exist. Even OSHA wouldn't pass a rule against indoor smoking simply because no harm can result and harm must be shown and at what levels it can occur simply put nothing in tobacco smoke reaches a level of harm to anyone or anything not even to direct smokers over a lifetime! They have never proven smoking causes a single disease in anyone via end point chemical pathways never and that's via the toxicological review of 2004.
  • Orwell's "1984" aside (how is this any different than putting cameras inside apartments?) and also putting aside the lie that cigarette smoking in one apartment poses a health hazard to other apartments by applying the results of a study -- already proved controvertible -- that looked at non-smoking spouses living WITHIN THE SAME HOME with smoking spouses over 40 years, the remarks themselves prove the absurdity of the anti-smoker campaign. “Outdoor stuff blows away pretty quickly so it's tough to get the concentration of smoke." What's that you say? Detection of that sort is a tough sell? That's a blow to the campaigners who claim that bans must extend 25 feet outside because they say it blows in windows and "causes harm." Also, nope, sorry.... if you listen to the anti-smoker campaigners they claim (read lie) that cigarette smoke in one apartment goes throughout the WHOLE building. So for this argument's sake, putting it in the hallway so that you can narrow it down to one or two apartments either makes YOU wrong or the activist researchers liars. Nevertheless, "narrowing down" possibilities still leaves me with three little words: Got a warrant?
  • There's a lil thing out there many have pushed for over the years public privacy from camera intrusion while speculation in the existence of public privacy exists its pursuit in today's age will surely give more credence to it after sensors like this get pushed, what's next fat meters to determine if an over weight person may have destroyed the bed springs or the chairs!
  • I've been a landlord for 21 years. The clean up procedure is the same for all apartments. Someone is pulling numbers out of thin air (or somewhere else). In fact, out of the hundreds of prospective tenants I have met with over the years, exactly one had declined to rent from me because I allow smoking in my buildings. You might as well quit tilting at windmills. The overwhelming majority of the population knows that SHS is just a scam.
  • I worked with a restoration firm for many years and the cost to remediate and effectively eliminate odor from an apartment could rage anywhere from $3,000.00 to $20,000.00+. The worse case I've seen is where the smoke has traveled through he electrical outlets behind the walls and the insulation ended up retaining the Tabaco/nicotine residue and odor. In this case the drywall walls, insulation and wood floors had to be removed. Its a fact that the residue from tobacco smoke clings to virtually all surfaces long after a cigarette has been extinguished, it reacts with the common indoor air pollutant nitrous acid to produce dangerous carcinogens, its not only an issue of complaints or nuisance its also a health hazard. This is because all of these building materials are porous, the burning of tobacco releases nicotine in the form of a vapor that adsorbs strongly onto indoor surfaces, such as walls, floors, carpeting, drapes and furniture. Nicotine can persist on those materials for days, weeks and even months. You have to keep in mind that this is referring to buildings that have rules and regulations that include not smoking within the premises. If its a building that permits smoking its counterproductive to use this measure since if you have a smoker moving into the building this sensor will detect it.
  • Andrea is correct, I have met with many landlords and maintenance staff and they all testify that clean up after a smoker costs thousands more. Smokers and their denial notwithstanding. You do have to feel sorry for nicotine addicts that feel they have to call health advocates liars, while everyone knows it is their addiction talking and not reality. Most people personally know someone who is sickened by secondhand smoke. The damage done to children who grow up in a home where the parents smoke is irrefutable, the greatly increased incidence of disease is well documented. Most nicotine addicts are able to see past their addiction and admit the harm it causes them and others, but for some the denial is intractable.
  • In our coop we have several shareholders who smoke constantly. How do I know this, the door to their unit is amber, it should be green like all the other doors. The inside of these units has an amber coating on the walls, ceiling, windows, floors, carpet and a stink that can be smelled through the halls. So now you tell me how that does not have a negative impact on all humans and pets???
  • Thanks Andrea, Susan and JoJo - Reading the earlier comments, I quickly realized that they're from smokers trying to justify their addiction - having lost two aunts, an uncle, and more than a few co-workers who couldn't stop. I call BS. Ever drive behind a smoker's car? Easy to spot - windows are dark yellow, and slimy looking. How disgusting... For many of us, non-smokers and ex-smokers alike, the stench of smoke is disgusting. It lingers, for days. As a former waitress back in the day, I would have to strip off my clothes and leave them outside. My hair would stink, everything smelled bad. My current tenant KNOWS this is a non-smoking house, but since the pandemic, I've been home less, which seemed to him meant permission to smoke inside, and I'm furious. Hoping to find a residential grade cigarette detector, since I've lost trust in him. Unfortunately most of these folks sell 50 units minimum. deep sigh.