Response: Cigarette smoke can come into your apartment from other apartments in many ways. The amount coming in usually depends on the ventilation in your apartment and the building, the weather, and cracks in walls and floors. Once in your apartment, the smell of tobacco smoke can linger, as it can can be absorbed into clothing and furniture.
Other than getting your neighbor to stop smoking inside the building either through persuasion or legal remedies, it will be difficult to prevent the smoke odor from entering your apartment. If you have a forced air ventilation system in your apartment, the odor may be entering your apartment through the vents. If so, the maintenance person for your building may be able to reconfigure your air handling system, which may help reduce or eliminate the odor.Otherwise, you could try to get rid of the smell by keeping your windows open (which depending on the weather is not practical or energy efficient) or by putting an air cleaner (or two) in your apartment. Depending on the type or brand that you use, the air cleaners will remove the small particles from cigarette smoke, but they are not likely to do much (if anything) about the smell. You could also hide the cigarette smell with air fresheners. which may be less than satisfying, since you would have an additional smell to deal with and since the cigarette smoke would still be getting into your apartment.
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Helen Suh MacIntosh is a professor in environmental health at Harvard University and studies how pollution behaves in the environment and how it affects people's health. Please keep in mind that her answers are just her interpretation of available information and should not be taken as the only viewpoint or solution to a problem. Use this column at your own risk. Having said this, please feel free to post any of your environmental health questions to Helen@TreeHugger.com (please use a descriptive email subject line and mention if you want to remain anonymous or not).