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Proposed smoke-free public housing rule: share your perspective and experience

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Last week, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Department and Surgeon General a proposed rule to make the nation’s public housing properties entirely smoke-free. HUD’s proposed rule would require more than 3,100 public housing agencies (PHAs) across the country to implement smoke-free policies in their developments within 18 months of the final rule. Read HUD’s proposed rule.

Under HUD’s proposed rule, PHAs must implement a policy prohibiting lit tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars or pipes) in all living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices and all outdoor areas within 25 feet of housing and administrative office buildings. HUD is seeking public comment on this proposed rule for the next two months. 

What does this mean for the cancer control community?
Currently, there are nearly 1.2 million public housing units across the country. Through HUD’s voluntary policy and local initiatives, more than 228,000 public housing units are already smoke-free. If finalized, the proposed smoke-free rule announced today would expand the impact to more 940,000 public housing units.
By reducing the public health risks associated with tobacco use and exposure to second hand smoke, the proposed smoke-free rule will enhance the effectiveness of HUD’s efforts to provide increased public health protection for residents of public housing. These protections will especially benefit the over 760,000 children under age 18 living in public housing and the over 329,000 persons over age 62. 
A 2014 CDC study estimated that the annual cost savings associated with banning smoking in public and subsidized housing to be $153 million. Health care costs accounted for $94 million, and renovation and fire costs accounted for $43 million and $16 million, respectively.
Implementing the guidelines will be a major public health undertaking!  This is a topic near and dear to me (and my PhD) so let me know:
  • will you be working with partners to help implement the new guidelines?
  • will this provide the "opportunity" to creat new partnerships? 
  • Have you worked with public housing offices before? What has been your experience?
  • What advice would you offer others?
I look forward to this discussion! Peace


I am heading down to the

I am heading down to the White House today for a White House Convening on the Proposed Rule hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement. Hope to see some of you there or on the livestream.  

#NCIR2R will be on the Twitter chat hosted by Secretary Julián Castro and the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy.  

Details and links below:

1)      Watch (beginning at noon on Wednesday) the livestream of the White House convening:

2)      Participate in the live Twitter chat starting from 12:30 pm- 1:00 p.m. ET, January 6. 

3)      Watch and share the YouTube video with Secretary Castro speaking about HUD’s proposed smoke-free rule:

I will be posting my reflections on the meeting (in more than 140 characters) soon and hope to read your thoughts as well.

Funded by the Wisconsin

Funded by the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention Control Program, Clear Gains was established in 2012 and  is a state-wide program that provides educational resources and assistance to property owners and tenants who are interested in learning about smoke-free living environments and establishing voluntary smoke-free policies. Since 2012, Clear Gains has assisted property owners and managers with the adoption of voluntary smoke-free policies in at least 119 private and 62 subsidized properties resulting in over 7,500 units that are smoke, protecting an estimated 16,000 people from secondhand smoke exposure. 

Some quotes from property owners that we have worked with include:

·         “Going smoke free has been one of the best management decisions we have made, our residents are happier and as owners we are proud of our properties.”  Scott Olsen, Grandview Pines Properties

·         There have been no problems with going smoke-free.   Our policy has been in place for three years, and resident compliance is not perfect, but it seems to get better each year. Dave Waterman, Sovereign Apartments

·         “Only twice  in 3 years I have had to fine a tenant for smoking other than that it's been a very easy change over. Our tenants were ready for the change.” Monroe Housing Authority

The following comments were received through a survey conducted with Wisconsin Housing Authorities that implemented smoke-free policies in some or all of their buildings. Managers wrote:

·         Expect violations

·         Expect that at first staff time will be spent on enforcement, but remember in the long run it will shorten maintenance time of cleaning up smoked-in units

·         Consistency with enforcement is vital

·         No-grandfathering – just go smoke-free right away!

·         It is very well received and most tenants are looking for a smoke-free environment

·         Follow the procedure and adopt the policy

Please visit to learn more about smoke-free multi-unit housing and let me know your thoughts!

Hi Deborah, Thanks so much

Hi Deborah,

Thanks so much for sharing your post and your insights from Wisconsin!  I'm so happy to hear that you've had a good experience w adopting these smokefree housing policies in your state.  Thanks for sharing the great quotes from some of your property owners, and your web site w folks who may find some great resources there.

Anyone else have experiences with this topic you'd like to share w others on R2R?

Thanks!  Bob

Here’s a great resource hot

Here’s a great resource hot off the presses from our friends at the Association for Nonsmokers-MN. The purpose of this directory is to assist those working on smoke-free multi-housing in connecting better with each other and each other’s services. You can download the document

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Earlier today, I came across

Earlier today, I came across a new resource from ChangeLab Solutions project that I thought would be of interest and use to followers of this discussion. ChangeLab Solutions has developed a model ordinance to help California cities and counties limit exposure to secondhand smoke in multi-unit residences such as apartment buildings, condominium complexes, senior housing, and single resident occupancy hotels.


You can also download the Smokefree Housing Model Ordinance Checklist which highlights key policy options available in the ordinance.


Have you seen or developed any smokefree housing rescources since the proposed rule was announced? 

Thought I’d call your

Thought I’d call your attention to this article in case you missed it!

In a bid to protect children, a proposal has been put forward in the United Kingdom (UK), to prohibit smoking in public housing, known as council houses in the UK. This plan would require anyone taking on new tenancy with local authorities to agree not to smoke inside.

We are delighted to cross

We are delighted to cross-post this recent post from HHS' Stories from the Field series. This series highlights how communities across the nation are addressing the Healthy People 2020 Leading Health Indicators (LHIs). LHIs are critical health issues that — if tackled appropriately — will dramatically reduce the leading causes of death and preventable illnesses.

June’s story features a program that is tackling smoke-free housing units

Mandy Burkett, Section Chief of the Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Program at the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), says she knew the problem of secondhand smoke was an important one to address in her state. “State surveys show that there’s a lot of secondhand smoke exposure in Ohio. Respondents to our 2013 Tobacco Survey reported that 3 in 10 adults were exposed to secondhand smoke in the past 7 days. And results from our 2013–2014 Ohio Youth Tobacco Survey showed that secondhand smoke exposure in the past 7 days was as high as 6 in 10 for children. It was clear that secondhand smoke exposure needed to be a priority for us.”

Shifting Expectations
Ohio has a law that prohibits smoking in all public places and places of employment, which passed by voter referendum in 2016 with just over 50% of the vote. But attitudes are changing with time. “Now we see an 80% approval rating,” Burkett says. “And as approval for that law has increased, we’ve received more calls from residents looking for multi-unit public housing that’s guaranteed smoke free. People are beginning to expect that.”

As a result, the Tobacco Program at ODH decided to work on increasing the number of multi-unit public housing properties protected by smoke-free policies.

Protecting Vulnerable Populations 
“We’re especially concerned about children,” says Burkett, “because they’re disproportionately burdened. We see more severe cases of asthma and higher rates of SIDS. We also wanted to focus on people who are already disadvantaged — those with lower incomes, disability, or mental health problems. These are the populations more likely to live in multi-unit public housing,” she explains. “So it’s a good focus for us.”

The fact is that people are extremely vulnerable to secondhand smoke if they live in a building where other people smoke. “Up to 60% of the airflow can come from other units,” says Burkett. And, according to the standards for ventilation set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, there’s no effective way to control the health risks of secondhand smoke in multi-unit properties other than to prohibit smoking completely. This is consistent with the 2006 Surgeon General’s Report, which concluded that separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings can’t eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.

Success by the Numbers
In 2015 and 2016, ODH grantees helped numerous Ohio housing authorities and public housing managers adopt smoke-free policies in public or low-income housing. Current data shows increasing numbers of smoke-free units in major Ohio cities, including:

  • 4,800 in Cincinnati
  • 3,000 in Dayton
  • 2,700 in Toledo/Lucas County

Straight to the Source
Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) introduced a rule, slated to take effect in 2018, which requires all HUD multi-unit public housing in the country to become smoke free. Although federal regulations will soon change, some property managers have questions about smoke-free policies. Since Burkett and her team have chosen to approach their work on smoke-free housing by going directly to the managers of public housing complexes and properties, they are well positioned to help.500 in Columbus

“Managers worry about higher vacancy rates, complaints from current tenants, enforcement-related costs, and even whether or not it’s legal,” explains Esther Benatar, who works with Burkett. “But we’re prepared to address those fears. Managers [of smoke-free properties] don’t see higher vacancies — most residents want their properties to be smoke free. Also, smoke-free policies save managers money on cleaning and renovation fees when they need to turn over units that have had smoking tenants. And their insurance costs go down due to the lower risk of fires.”

A Systematic Approach 
The Tobacco Program’s approach is to provide property managers with a lot of hands-on support. The first step is sending people out to talk to managers about smoke-free policies. “Then we have a whole system set up to lead property managers through every step of policy development and implementation,” says Burkett.

This system includes an on-demand webinar and a toolkit with a model policy that managers can adapt to fit their needs, sample notification materials for tenants, and language about the policy to include in the lease. The Tobacco Program also helps managers engage current tenants with public meetings about pending changes — and arranges cessation services for tenants who want to quit. There are also incentives for managers who implement a smoke-free policy, like help advertising their policy through signage and press releases.

The program also does outreach to residents. “We go at it from the grassroots level, too,” Burkett says. “We want to help people understand that they can look for smoke-free public housing — and why it’s so important that they do.”

Looking Ahead
When discussing the future of smoke-free public housing, Burkett is optimistic — but she knows there’s more work to be done.

“The HUD rule is a good impetus for landlords to get ahead of this issue,” she says. “But policy change of any kind is difficult, and we need to figure out how we can provide more tailored assistance at key stages of the process. There are some important questions that I think we can find ways to address more effectively, like: Do you have the right partners involved? Do you have support from the community? Do you have a model policy that’s culturally appropriate for your area?”

“It’s rewarding work,” adds Benatar. “At the end of the day, we’re helping to promote safe, healthy, affordable housing — and that can transform lives.”