Why Is Smoke-free Housing a Big Deal?
Millions of people — adults and children — are exposed to secondhand smoke. Sometimes, the smoke that poses a health threat comes from an adjacent housing unit such as another apartment or condominium unit. Since smoke travels through walls, ventilation systems, and hallways, it is easy for the toxins in tobacco smoke to infiltrate other homes, and expose non-smokers to the same health threats faced by smokers.
Many agencies and buildings are moving towards keeping all of their structures smoke free, in an effort to reduce the amount of people exposed to tobacco smoke. This will be especially helpful for children, who have still-developing lungs and are easily harmed by smoke exposure.
Facts About Smoke-free Housing
- Blood levels of cotinine, the typical marker of tobacco smoke exposure, are higher for children in non-smoking apartments than other non-smoking types of homes. This is most likely due to smoke from neighboring apartment units.
- Despite residential buildings that allow smoking being a fire hazard, health danger, and more expensive to insure, only about 4% of Public Housing Authorities in the US have voluntarily made its buildings smoke-free.
- Children exposed to tobacco smoke are at risk for asthma and other respiratory illnesses, earaches, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Some populations are more likely to become sick from smoke exposure such as children, the elderly, people with disabilities, or pregnant women. Some of these groups are also more likely to live in public housing buildings and can be easily exposed to smoke.
- The estimated cost of decontamination of a two-bedroom housing unit can be as much as $15,000.
- In July 2009, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development released a memo encouraging Public Housing Authorities to implement non-smoking policies in some or all of their public housing units.
- How far can tobacco smoke travel? Tobacco smoke can be measured in high quantities more than 20 feet from an outdoor source.
- According to a study published by Kraev et al in a 2009 edition of Tobacco Control, 89% of low-income apartments with no smokers had detectable air nicotine concentrations.
- Learn more about how smoke-free policies will help those in multifamily and public housing by listening to AAP Richmond Center researcher Dr. Jonathan Winickoff speak at a recent Federal Interagency Committee on Indoor Air Quality meeting. Dr. Winickoff's presentation was titled Smoke-free Multi-unit Housing: The State of the Science. Listen now
How Can Pediatricians Help?
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy recommends that pediatricians support clean-air and smoke-free environment ordinances and legislation in their community and state, particularly for environments in which children learn, live, and play, such as schools, multi-unit housing, public parks, child care settings, public beaches, sidewalks, restaurants, and sporting arenas. These environments should be smoke free even when children are not present.
To aid in accomplishing smoke-free multi-unit housing, pediatricians can:
- work with their AAP chapters to pass state legislation requiring that multi-unit housing be smoke free.
- work with local zoning administrators to require that multi-unit housing, including owner-occupied condominiums and apartments, are smoke free.
- educate landlords and homeowners associations about the importance of maintaining smoke-free multi-unit housing environments.
Smoke-free Housing in the News
Smoke-free housing has been a "hot topic" in recent news. Below, you will find information from various media sources about this issue, particularly with regard to AAP Julius B. Richmond Center of Excellence activities.
- New Resource: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Smoke-free Housing Toolkit for Owners and Residents
The AAP, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other organizations collaborated to create these resources that provide residents and owners of federally assisted public and multifamily housing units with educational materials, organizing tools, public health notices and resources on how to create healthier housing by reducing secondhand smoke exposure.
- AAP Richmond Center researchers find that those living in apartments are often subjected to smoke from neighboring units
- Tobacco-Smoke Exposure in Children Who Live in Multiunit Housing by Richmond Center Principal Investigators Dr. Karen Wilson, Dr. Jonathan Klein, Mark Gottlieb, JD, and Dr. Jonathan Winickoff
ABC News Video: Apartment Kids Exposed to More Tobacco Smoke
- Regulation of Smoking in Public Housing by Richmond Center Principal Investigators Dr. Jonathan Winickoff and Mark Gottlieb, JD
- Time: 99% of Children Living in Apartments May Be Exposed to Secondhand Smoke
- US News and World Report: Neighboring Apartments May Expose Kids to Cigarette Smoke
- ABC News: Apartment Kids Exposed to More Tobacco Smoke
- BBC: Flat-dwelling children exposed to neighbours' smoke too
- Bloomberg: Kids Take In More Tobacco Smoke in Apartments Than in Houses
- Predictors of Public Support for Smoke-Free Public Housing
Additional Smoke-free Housing Resources:
- American Lung Association: Smoke-free Policies in Multi-Unit Housing: Steps for Success curriculum
- Americans for Non-Smokers Rights: Going smoke-free in your home
- ChangeLab Solutions: Healthy Housing
- Group to Alleviate Smoking Pollution: Smoke-Free Housing Tips and Resources
- Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: Toolkit for Implementing Smoke-Free Laws
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Smoke-free Housing Toolkits- Owners and Residents
Please note that these are not complete listings and inclusion in the listings does not imply endorsement by the Richmond Center or the American Academy of Pediatrics.