Health Department

Smoke-free Housing

Smoke-free Housing
by Larry D. Jones, MPH, Health Director
July 16, 2013

Most of us have a say in where we live and how we live at home. If we care about our health, we don’t smoke and see to it that others don’t smoke in our homes. We are the lucky ones. We own our homes and have a say. Many of our friends do not have that luxury. They rent, and if they live in an apartment, even though they don’t smoke, they have to breathe their neighbors’ smoke daily.

Studies have shown that people who live in multi-unit housing can be particularly affected by unwanted secondhand smoke exposure. In a study conducted in 2009 by Wilder Research, they found that a 75-percent majority of renters would be likely to choose a smoke-free building over a building that allows smoking if the buildings were the same in every other way.

They also found that renters are also interested in buildings that provide outdoor smoke-free areas such as balconies, entryways, and entirely smoke-free properties. Finally, in order to live in a smoke-free building, many renters were willing to live in a building that does not have a pool or playground, drive farther to work, and pay more rent.

Not having the option of smoke-free housing is not only costing the renter and the landlord money, it is costing us as well. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) titled Smoke-free subsidized housing would save $521 million a year found there would be an annual savings of $521:

  • $341 million in health care cost
  • $108 million in renovation expenses
  • $72 million in smoking-related fire loses

As you are aware, subsidized housing means tax-supported housing, which means the use of everyone’s tax dollars. That $521 million a year would go a long way to fund other infrastructure services, whether it be roads and bridges, public safety, the arts or whatever your favorite underfunded item might be.

The 2006 Surgeon General’s Report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, concluded that secondhand smoke is also known to cause numerous health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthmas attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome. In the same report, the Surgeon General concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and only 100 percent smoke-free indoor policies can fully protect people from secondhand smoke dangers.

Okay, what can we do? If you are a renter, ask for smoke-free housing. Until landlords hear a demand, they will not offer a solution. Landlords, you can turn your buildings into smoke-free residences and save yourself money and offer much needed housing in our community. If you own properties that are rentals or sit on a housing board, you can pass policies to make your units smoke free. By the way, it is not against the law to only offer smoke-free housing.

There is currently no state or federal law that prohibits a landlord from making an entire apartment building smoke free. Smoke-free policies are not discriminatory and may actually protect landlords from the risk of some legal violations such as warranty of habitability or covenant of quiet enjoyment. Residents with disabilities caused by or made worse by secondhand smoke may also have legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Federal Fair Housing Act.

In 2009 and 2012, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued notices encouraging public housing authorities across the nation to implement smoke-free policies in housing units.

Currently the Independence Health Department is collaborating with some privately-owned multi-unit housing properties to prepare for voluntary implementation of smoke-free policies for living units.

As a community, we need to protect ourselves from high medical costs and unnecessary illness.