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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I will soon be meeting with someone who is writing a biography of his late father. I knew the man well (perhaps too well) more than 30 years ago. I was privy to certain indiscretions that I would never reveal, except that now all the principals are dead.

I don't know what my friend would want now. It may be that he would not want me to reveal what I know. Is there a statute of limitations on confidentiality? Does it end with the death of the subjects, or the death of everyone known immediately to them (i.e., living family and/or friends)? Or does confidentiality last forever?

Journalist friends tell me that in the tradition of their profession, the dead have no privacy. I'm not sure I agree with that, or whether it applies to personal confidences. Courts have ruled that public persons have less privacy than nonpublic persons. Does that apply here?

My friends are divided on this. I'm in the middle. What do you think? -- SITTING ON A SECRET

DEAR SITTING: In general, privacy rights die with the person. My legal experts tell me dead people cannot be defamed. Their good names die with them.

However, in the moral sense, if you kept your friend's secret while he was alive, you should continue to do so. Listen to your conscience and you won't go wrong.

DEAR ABBY: I have lived in an upstairs apartment for seven years. It is convenient to where both my spouse and I work. The rent is affordable, and we have a good relationship with our landlord.

The problem? Two years ago he rented the office directly downstairs to a woman who chain-smokes. He told her when she rented it that he had a no-smoking policy. (I don't know if it was written into her lease or not.) She has ignored the no-smoking policy since day one. After four or five requests from me that she not smoke, she replied that I would "just have to open a window."

Abby, opening a window does nothing. Our rugs and furniture stink. The clothes in our closet stink. Our throats tickle, our eyes burn, and I hate to think of the long-term effects on the health of our 3-year-old daughter.

After the "just open a window" comment, I went to our landlord. He told her in no uncertain terms that she was not to smoke in the building. She stopped briefly, then started again. Back to the landlord I went. She stopped briefly once again, then started again. Back to the landlord again. Now, she simply denies that she's smoking (there's no doubt that she does), and I am tired of bothering our landlord.

The building is very old and nothing short of demolition would keep the smell from drifting up here. The floors are hardwood. I love this place for its rustic charm, and have put a lot of work into making it a pleasant and comfortable home.

Abby, does she have the right to smoke? Don't I have the right to keep my home smoke-free? I am a happy person, but she's making my life miserable. -- FRUSTRATED IN ST. PETE'S BEACH, FLA.

DEAR FRUSTRATED: If the non-smoking policy your landlord has been trying to enforce is part of the lease, then your neighbor does not have the right to smoke -- she's in violation of the agreement, and the landlord can insist she move.

If it is not in the lease agreement, and the stench of stale smoke has reached a level you fear could harm your daughter, then you are the one who will have to move.

Your landlord would be wise to choose which tenant he wishes to keep before you make the decision for him.

For Abby's favorite family recipes, send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet No. 1, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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