Commentary: Smoke-Free Housing Should be Safe and Secure

Smoking has been aggressively and fraudulently marketed to the American public by an industry that has lied and misrepresented key information about its deadly product for years, including the severely addictive nature of tobacco as well as the deadly health consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke exposure (SHS). Adding insult to injury, tobacco companies have specifically marketed to minorities and those of lower socio-economic status. Research shows that smoking rates are highest among adults with incomes below the poverty level and among those with a GED diploma or less.

As smoke-free housing policies gain momentum nationwide, we should ensure populations that are disproportionately impacted by tobacco use – including low SES groups and minorities – are not subject to the draconian consequences of these otherwise well-intended policies. A December 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds up to 29 million residents of multi-unit housing are exposed to secondhand smoke, despite having smoke-free home rules. The study, released in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, is the first to report national and state estimates of the number of multi-unit housing residents who are exposed to secondhand smoke that entered their homes from somewhere else in or around their buildings.

Secondhand tobacco smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS, respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma attacks in infants and children. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger acute cardiac events such as heart attack; and SHS is responsible for an estimated 50,000 deaths each year.

Legacy agrees that the best way to prevent SHS exposure, especially to children, is not allowing smoking in multi-housing units in general. Through our grants and awards initiatives, we have support groups that have successfully worked toward making multi-unit housing smoke free. Legacy also believes that the enforcement of smoke-free policies, whether in public housing units or even private, must be reasonable and fair.

In June 2012, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Health and Human Services (HHS) and other public health groups released “how-to” guides to assist and encourage private owners of federally assisted multi-unit housing and public housing authorities to adopt smoke-free policies to protect residents from the dangers of SHS exposure and to reduce maintenance costs.

As HUD and HHS develop enforcement mechanisms for smoke-free housing, they should avoid using termination of lease agreements or eviction as an end. Safe and secure housing – a key direction of the National Prevention Strategy – should not be put at risk because someone is not able to overcome the powerful addiction to nicotine. Instead, smokers might benefit more from other tactics, such as paying the costs associated with tobacco use or performing community service hours. In addition, tobacco users and all residents should be notified in advance of any imminent smoke-free policies and should be given smoking cessation information.

While smoke-free housing would promote health, putting the security of housing for smokers at risk due to cigarette addiction is not the answer to creating healthy homes. As we know, nearly 70 percent of adult smokers want to quit, but only 6 percent succeed; smokers need as much information about quitting, including tobacco quitline numbers, local services or even web-based services, as possible. HUD and HHS should also coordinate with Medicare and Medicaid, local health departments, community health centers and other health providers. This will ensure that smokers have access to proven tobacco cessation interventions that will save lives, money and contribute to safe and healthy homes.

David Dobbins
Chief Operating Officer

10 Responses

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    Carol Denney

    January 8, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    It’s deceptive to imply that smokers have no options but to smoke indoors in multi-unit housing. Smokers have patches, lozenges, dozens of ways to address their addiction without poisoning their neighbors’ air, and most of them in my county simply step outside and take a walk. I live in multi-unit housing, and we do absolutely need to stop systematically exposing people who have the misfortune to share walls with smokers.

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    January 6, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    I like the idea of kicking out the people who not only sabotage their own health but that of their neighbors. They also raise the fire risk in the building. I know it is hard to quit smoking. I’ve done it twice. Those who choose smoking over their own health and that of everyone else in the building are choosing to live elsewhere. If they can afford to smoke why are we paying for their housing?!?

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    Kate Cee

    January 5, 2013 at 6:13 PM

    So, the anti-smoker brigade wishes to make smoking in a private home a priority and spend public funds to do so while violent crime remains an ever growing emergency in public housing??? As usual, these policies fail to think beyond the immediate agenda. What we do not need are parents leaving young children to fend for themselves while they step outside to smoke. You may state that shs is the immediate danger to a child, but clearly those who force these policies on families, especially the poor, have absolutely no clue about the realities of living in such spaces.

    “While murder did drop, there were increases in almost every other category of crime, including rape, robbery, burglary and felony assault.

    NYCHA crime statistics had one bright spot. In the Bronx, housing developments experienced a 5 percent reduction in crime – the only borough where there was a drop.

    Vacca said he found the reduction hard to fathom and speculated that crimes are going unreported or that altercations involving NYCHA tenants that occur nearby, but outside the development itself, are not being captured in the statistics.”

    “Public housing developments in Brooklyn and Queens have seen a 26 percent spike in crime over the last two years – that’s according to a New York City Housing Authority document.

    At public housing developments city wide, there’s been a 14 percent rise in crime from 2010 to 2012, compared to a 5 percent increase in the city as a whole during that same time.”

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    January 5, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    ALL of the lies, fraud, and corruption have come from the anti-smokers! They deliberately use defective studies to falsely blame smoking for diseases that are really caused by infection, by exploiting the fact that smokers and passive smokers are more likely to be exposed to those infections, for socioeconomic reasons. And every Surgeon General report is the proof of this!

    And, all their so-called “independent” reports were ring-led by the same guy, Jonathan M. Samet, including the Surgeon General Reports, the EPA report, the IARC report, and the ASHRAE report, and he’s now the chairman of the FDA Committee on Tobacco. He and his politically privileged clique exclude all the REAL scientists from their echo chamber. That’s how they make their reports “unanimous!”

    For the government to commit fraud to deprive us of our liberties is automatically a violation of our Constitutional rights to the equal protection of the laws, just as much as if it purposely threw innocent people in prison. And for the government to spread lies about phony smoking dangers is terrorism, no different from calling in phony bomb threats.

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    Bruce Fiedler

    January 5, 2013 at 12:02 AM

    I am pleased with the efforts of the Legacy Foundation, and can wholeheartedly endorse most of Mr. Dobbins’ commentary. For instance, he recommends assistance for persons who wish to end their addiction to tobacco products. This is a good thing considering that the experience of many smokers is that “cold turkey” is not an effective strategy. And when a smoker has support, patches, gum, counseling and encouragement, the success rate is much higher.

    But one item needs correction: Mr. Dobbins does not think that a smoker’s “housing security” — read “eviction for smoking in a smokefree environment” — should be put in jeopardy. As an administrator of HUD assisted apartments for more than a quarter century, I would make this distinction: Requiring that residents not smoke in an apartment building, or on the balconies, or other common spaces does not mean that person has to quit smoking. Rather, just as they may not smoke in airplanes, buses, city hall, and many offices and restaurants, they also should not smoke in a multifamily complex and poison their neighbors.

    Apartments often have house rules designed to provide for the health, safety, and “quiet enjoyment” of all residents. So, vicious dogs, loud music, drug dealing, discharge of firearms, and a long list of other behaviors that endanger neighbors or are a hazard to the buildings are prohibited, and when other measures do not work, eviction may be necessary. And so, I think, should be use of tobacco products that poison the air and endanger the health of others, especially the very young, the very elderly, and the very poor.

    In 2004, the complex where I worked became smokefree. While it was not the first in the nation to do so, we were certainly well ahead of the current trend. And we never had to evict anyone. Rather, several smokers said that this change in policy encouraged them to quit. The complex had significant savings in maintenance and insurance costs, and our example led to other apartments and the local housing authority to take the same step in their buildings.

    In August, 2007, Guardian Management, an organization with more than 6000 units in three states, let it be known that at the beginning of 2008, smoking would not be allowed in any of their buildings. Some smokers used that five months to find other housing, but the greater majority of smokers stayed where they were and followed the new policy. A survey by the Health Department found that a year later the very great majority of residents were highly satisfied with this change.

    Now there are a number of cities that have made some or all apartments and condos within their jurisdiction smokefree by local ordinance. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has strongly encouraged all public and family housing which receives federal funds to take the same step.

    To my knowledge, there is no complex that has embarked on a well-planned effort to make their buildings safer for residents and staff by becoming smokefree which has had any significant problems.

    With that in mind, I urge Mr. Dobbins and the Legacy Foundation to take a stronger stand on behalf of all apartment dwellers who need to breathe clean air. And if that means that smokers have to “take it outside” or face the possibility of eviction for endangering their neighbors, that seems to be a reasonable policy.

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