All 3,100 public housing agencies in the U.S. will be required to go smoke -free in the next eighteen months thanks to a new rule released by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on November 30, 2016. The rule requires that the agencies enact smoke-free policies that apply to all living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices, and outdoor areas within 25 feet of buildings.
Health advocates say smoke-free policies are necessary to protect all residents from secondhand smoke. New data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows that 77% of adults living in multi-unit housing want a no-smoking policy. In addition, the policies reduce the risk of fire, since smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths in the country. Fire costs due to smoking total $16 million per year. Cleaning costs total $43 million.
The new rule is expected to improve the health of more than 2 million public housing residents, including 760,000 children and329,000 people over age 62. It will help to reduce health inequities, as nearly half of all people living in poverty and 7 in 10 black children are exposed to secondhand smoke, nearly double the number of white children. Secondhand smoke causes 400 infant deaths each year and often leads to asthma, which is one of the main reasons kids miss school.
While local tobacco prevention partners, including the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance, Tobacco-Free Suburban Milwaukee and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network, Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Poverty Network, and Wisconsin Hispanic/Latino Tobacco Prevention Network expressed overall enthusiasm for the rule, they also noted there was room for improvement.
“Right now, e-cigarettes aren’t included in the rule, but it’s increasingly clear that e-cigarettes do expose non-users to secondhand aerosol. In fact, a growing number of localities nationwide are amending their smoke-free air policies to include e-cigarettes. HUD is letting individual public housing agencies decide if they want to prohibit e-cigarette use, which presents an important opportunity for local public health advocates to make their voices heard.”” said Dr. Linnea Laestadius, Assistant Professor of Public Health at UW-Milwaukee.
According to Milwaukee Fire Department Deputy Chief Aaron Lipski , he and the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance are available to help public housing make the switch through the Clear Gains initiative.“HUD’s forward-thinking posture with the smoke-free public housing rule will have a positive impact on the good work that Clear Gains does. The expansive network of resources and public health and safety experts will smooth the transition for public housing officials as they work to achieve ‘smoke-free’ in the next eighteen months. The Milwaukee Fire Department will continue to inform and educate property owners, landlords, occupants, and others about the fire risk-reduction and health benefits of smoke-free multi-unit housing (public OR private). It just makes sense,” he says.
Visit Clear Gains at www.wismokefreehousing.com to learn more about smoke-free housing efforts in Wisconsin, and bit.ly/mketobaccofree for more on local prevention work. Tobacco users can call the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line f or free assistance at 1-800-QUIT NOW.