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Secondhand Smoke: What is it, Why is it a Problem, and What Are the Advantages of Smoke-free Multi-Unit Housing?

October 18, 2012

On Thursday, October 25th from 5:00-6:30PM Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital’s Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Prevention Taskforce and Gilman Housing Authority are hosting a second community forum with residents at Mtn. View Apartments to raise awareness of the benefits of smoke-free housing. Is smoke-free housing an initiative they support? What are their concerns about such a policy? How can we work together to protect residents’ health and reduce the risks to Gilman Housing, making Mtn. View a community where all parties are invested in creating healthy homes?
Secondhand smoke is a Group A carcinogen- a substance known to cause cancer in humans for which there is no safe level of exposure. It is more deadly than vehicle exhaust, arsenic, lead, and asbestos. It is the third leading cause of preventable death in the US, killing up to 55,000 non-smokers each year; that’s one non-smoker for every eight smokers the tobacco industry kills.
Infants, children, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of secondhand smoke.  Children exposed in the home are 44% more likely to suffer from Asthma. Exposure to secondhand smoke has been linked to lung cancer, heart disease, sinus infections, SIDS and dementia in older adults. It is of particular concern to elderly and disabled persons, especially those with heart or respiratory disease or disorders such as emphysema, asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease, or allergies. As little as 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke has been found to trigger heart attacks in older persons with pre-existing heart conditions.
In 2007, almost 78% of U.S. households had rules against smoking in their home, up from 43% in 1993. However, smoking still occurs in many households and remains a major source of secondhand smoke exposure. In multi-unit housing facilities, smoke-free policies can play an important role in protecting residents from secondhand smoke that can infiltrate from units into common areas and other units through air ducts, cracks in floors and walls, stairwells, hallways, elevator shafts, plumbing, electrical lines, and open windows. No ventilation system is effective in removal of toxins; up to 65% of air is still exchanged between units. “At present, the only means of effectively eliminating health risk associated with indoor exposure is to ban smoking activity.” - American Society of Heating, Refrigerating & Air-Conditioning Engineers, 2005.
Fires caused by smoking are the leading cause of residential fire deaths. Smoke-free policies in multiunit housing protect tenants’ health and protect owners’ investment. Smoking causes cigarette burn damage to carpets and counters and it leaves residue on walls and curtains. According to the Smoke-Free Housing New England, 2009 report the cost to rehabilitate a unit where smoking is allowed is upwards of $3,500.00 versus under $600 for a non-smoking unit. Landlords also may benefit from smoke-free policies by discounts on property-casualty insurance and reduced liability. A larger share of the market want smoke-free housing, because it makes it easier to rent. 
For more information about secondhand smoke or the meeting at Mtn. View Apartments, contact Rose Sheehan at 748-7532.