The New York Peace Institute, a group devoted to mediation and conflict resolution, recently received an inquiring message from Audrey Silk, the founder of a non-profit known as NYC C.L.A.S.H.—Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment—regarding an informational meeting for residents of the Vaux Condominium building, on Central Park West. The Peace Institute had been invited—and by all indications planned to attend—the meeting, which had been organized by the building’s condo board, in order to ease potential tensions between residents in support of a proposed smoking ban in the building, and those opposed to it.
But the meeting, which is scheduled for March 4th, had, Ms. Silk believed, been unfairly designed to trumpet one side of the discussion and muffle the other, prejudicing any future determinations against those opposed to a ban. “What exactly will you be ‘mediating’?” She wrote. “The board has denied numerous requests by these owners to add balance to this meeting by allowing them to having [sic] their own speaker–a fair pro and con debate so that the ensuing legally mandated vote by all owners can be reasonably said to be legitimate.”
She had a point. Although representatives from the Coalition for a Smoke Free City and the Department of Public Health had been lined up for the meeting, no expert speaker on behalf of the anti-smoking ban constituency was to be admitted. (At least two Vaux residents asked that Ms. Silk herself be invited to speak on their behalf.) As it turns out, no one from the Peace Institute will be available to attend the meeting, but so far, no anti-smoking ban speaker has been invited to fill the open slot. “No other invitations will be extended by the Board to any other group,” Linda LeShanna, president of the Board of Managers at the Vaux, wrote to one resident. “The Board has set the agenda and will manage the meeting,” she advised another.
Condo owners will be free, of course, to air their views. But no matter how many smokers rank among them, unless the Coalition for a Smoke Free City and the Department of Public Health have secretly, radically changed their mandates, the meeting seems predisposed to trend in favor of the smoking ban, which, Ms. Silk told the Observer, would require a two-thirds majority vote among owners at a later date.
“They never debate,” Ms. Silk said of those inclined to favor smoking bans—in both public and private settings. “If you’re so sure of yourself, debate. That’s what makes sense.”
Some of the rhetoric on the NYC C.L.A.S.H. website is bound to raise eyebrows among smokers and non-smokers alike: “Smoking is a health risk only to those who choose to smoke. While there is no proven study which links secondhand smoke to cancer in nonsmokers there are those who may find smoke to be an annoyance.”
Asked about her views on the risks of secondhand smoke, Ms. Silk demurred. She did say, however, that suggestions that smoke filtered through the walls or floors of nearby apartments might cause cancer were nonsensical. “That’s like worrying that the sun reflected off your neighbor’s house is going to come through your window and give you cancer,” she said. “Now we’re getting into fantasy land.”
The Observer is in no way qualified to evaluate the scientific merit of that statement. But certain portions of the C.L.A.S.H. website evince a logical and even familiar mode of thinking: “What we used to call ‘The American Way’” is not a system in which certain rights exist for one group, while “another is made to have none.”