Secondhand smoke risks trigger smoke-free building policies

January 14, 2013 9:27:24 AM PST
It seeps through walls and heads right for your lungs. Approximately 80 million Americans live in shared housing like an apartment or condo building. About 30 million are exposed to secondhand smoke because of their neighbors.

Here is what some landlords are doing to look out for their tenants' health.

Shared housing tenant Beatrice says, "I never smoked in my life. I never even touched a cigarette."

But, Beatrice has COPD and nodules on her lungs from inhaling someone else's cigarette smoke. Like her, if you live in an apartment building and your neighbor smokes, you do too.

"You're looking at an estimate of anywhere between 40 and 60,000 deaths per year attributable to second-hand smoke," says Andrew Hyland, Ph.D., a Research Scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. That's more than all fatal car crashes each year.

"It's not a good thing; it's not a good thing," continues Hyland. Twenty-eight states ban smoking in public places, but smoking in apartments is legal. Now, property-owners like Pam Berger are adopting smoke-free policies.

"Why, just because you have limited choices and limited income, should you be almost forced to live in an unhealthy environment?" says Berger, the vice president for Property Operations of Belmont Housing Resources for Western New York.

Smoke can easily travel through vents and cracks under doors.

Berger explains that, "We just wanted to provide everybody with a healthier environment."

Jenna Brinkworth educates landlords on how to make the switch.

"This is a growing trend across the country. Many landlords are becoming more aware that it's something they can legally do," say Brinkworth of the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Smoke-free policies have increased 1,300 percent in the last six years and tenants are thankful.

Madeline has asthma from secondhand smoke. Like Beatrice, she now lives in a smoke-free complex for her health.

"I don't want to get any worse. I want to see my grandkids ... I want to see my grandkids get married," says Madeline.

Smokers are not a protected class, and it's perfectly legal for landlords to change to a smoke-free policy at any time. The benefits extend far beyond healthier tenants.

Since Pam Berger's buildings have gone smoke-free, vacancy loss has dropped 29 percent.