California and many other jurisdictions have laws that give property owners the right to ban smoking in apartments. A smoke-free policy is legal and encouraged by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Across the country, smoke-free apartments are now in high demand and are quickly becoming the standard for multi-unit housing.
A smoke-free policy does not require residents to quit smoking. It regulates where they can smoke to prevent others from being exposed to toxic secondhand smoke.
Many cities in California have taken a proactive approach to protect multi-unit housing residents from secondhand smoke. This has not been the case with Fresno County cities. While many apartment complexes have adopted voluntary smoke-free policies, there is a lot of turnover among apartment complex managers and smoke-free policies do not remain a priority with new management.
The cities in the Valley should step up to this initiative by enacting ordinances to protect our friends, families and neighbors from secondhand smoke.
There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. There is a big problem when smoking occurs in multi-unit housing because the smoke cannot be contained, nor can its remnants be completely eradicated after a smoker vacates the unit. When one person smokes, everyone in the apartment building smokes.
In multi-unit housing, smoke travels through walls, windows, vents and floors. This exposure can cause a healthy person to have breathing complications and can be life threatening for the elderly and children. Secondhand smoke is dangerous to everyone’s health, including pets.
Furthermore, the cost of maintaining and renovating a unit rented by a smoker is significantly higher than a non-smoker’s unit. The cost to restore the damage caused by smoking is one of the largest operating expenses of a property. Apartments that have been smoked in can cost two to seven times more to clean.
Smoking is also the culprit for the majority of residential fires because of abandoned or discarded smoking materials.
Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. About 10 percent of these chemicals cause cancer and nonsmokers inhale those same chemicals in the form of secondhand smoke. Each year, there are over 7,000 lung cancer deaths among adult nonsmokers in the United States.
Most exposure to secondhand smoke occurs in the home because that is where a majority of time is spent. With severe rates of asthma and other respiratory conditions in the Valley, a smoke-free housing policy would be a step in the right direction to protect tenants in their home from unwanted and harmful exposure to unhealthy air quality.
With the proposed California Assembly Bill 62 (Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg) smoke-free policy, all public housing associations shall design and implement a policy prohibiting smoking a tobacco product or device such as e-cigarettes in all public housing living units and interior areas. This bill was recently approved by the Assembly and has advanced to the Senate.
This can be an opportune time for our local jurisdictions to create a healthier living environment for all multi-unit properties.
Every person deserves the right to breathe fresh air. We hope that the cities in the Valley move toward adopting smoke-free policies that protect the health of all residents.
If property owners or managers would like assistance in making their property smoke-free, they can contact the Fresno County Department of Public Health Tobacco Prevention Program’s Health Education Specialist: Bessie Yang at (559) 600-6446 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer Acidera is Fresno program coordinator with the California Health Collaborative and she works for the Regional Advocates Countering Tobacco (REACT) Program. She also is a member of the Fresno County Tobacco Free Coalition.