According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is estimated that during 2011—2012, about 58 million nonsmokers in the United States were exposed to second-hand smoke.
Children who live in homes in which smoking occurs indoors, and those who live in multi-unit housing (for example, apartments or condos) have a 45-percent higher cotinine level (roughly half the amount) than children who live in single-family homes. Cotinine is a biomarker for exposure to tobacco smoke. During the same time period, it was identified that two out of every five children in the United States, ages 3 to 11, were exposed to second-hand smoke on a regular basis and more than 1 in 3 (33.3 percent) nonsmokers who lived in rental housing were exposed to second-hand smoke.
Exposure to second-hand smoke can lead to lung cancer and heart disease in non-smoking adults and to lower respiratory infections, asthma, ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome in children. Secondhand smoke is especially harmful to pregnant women and to fetal development. Furthermore, tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and cause cancer in children and adults, and the only way to fully protect nonsmokers is to eliminate smoking in all homes, work sites, and public places. In Massachusetts, 1 out of every 10 children had pediatric asthma (2012). But the air is clearing and there are strategies to reverse this trend.
Local, state, and federal efforts are under way to move toward the goal of eliminating exposure to second-hand smoke and to reduce pediatric asthma and other related outcomes with respect to second-hand smoke. Since implementation of the Massachusetts Smoke Free Workplace Law in 2004, a significant reduction of second-hand smoke exposure was confirmed. However, there are still gaps in the state law where health care workers, municipal workers, nursing home staff and other professionals are still being exposed. Local boards of health have implemented local regulations restricting smoking in public places, parks, and playgrounds by establishing restrictions and setbacks to avoid second-hand smoke exposure to buildings and promoting smoke free environments for community events.
Locally, the smoke-free housing project can offer technical assistance and guidance to property owners interested to go smoke-free. Since 2009, the Tri-Town Health Department, Be Well Berkshires and the Berkshire Partnership for Health (BP4H) through the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund, with the support of many collaborative partners, have registered well over 3,500 apartments and assisted landlords in the Berkshires to go smoke-free. Leaders from the YMCA, Berkshire Housing and several housing authorities, including many private landlords recognize the need to eliminate second-hand smoke exposure. Seventy percent of the housing authorities in the Berkshires have gone smoke-free with the remainder seriously considering it. New housing developments have implemented smoke-free policies and the demand by tenants for smoke-free units is increasing.
Federally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a rule to require all properties to be smoke-free in November 2015. The rule is still pending, but HUD is encouraging properties to make the switch in the interim.
Converting properties to go smoke-free is legal. In fact, landlords are potentially liable and have an obligation to ensure healthy and safe housing is available. In a 2008 survey of Massachusetts landlords, 42 percent of owners reported that a smoke-free rule decreased their legal liability. Smoke free homes reduce the incident of fires, reduce maintenance costs and, more importantly, improve air quality and eliminates exposure to second-hand smoke. Working together, we can eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke and improve overall health outcomes.
Property owners or tenants who are interested in staff technical assistance may contact David Blanchette firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-243-5540. For more information on how to find available properties that are smoke-free, visit www.bewellberkshires.org. For more information on the smoke-free housing toolkit materials, www.makesmokinghistory.org, and for more information on how to identify cessation and quit smoking resources, contact the Berkshire Partnership for Health at 413-445-9232 or 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
James J. Wilusz is the executive director for the Tri-Town Health District, program director for the Tobacco Awareness Program of the Berkshires and Be Well Berkshires program administrator.
This column appears in the Lifestyles section of the Berkshire Eagle the second Sunday of each month.
The Healthy Pittsfield Partnership is coordinated by the Pittsfield Health Department and Board of Health. Partners include community residents, business leaders, health and human service professionals, city officials and health advocates. The partnership is committed to community based initiatives that will improve the health and quality of life of Pittsfield's residents and workforce. For more information, visit www.cityofpittsfield.org/cityhall/healthand inspections/healthypittsfield.