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Jeffrey Seyler Headshot

Smokefree Housing Options in NYC Need to Expand

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Here in New York City's five boroughs, tremendous progress has been made over the last few years when it comes to the number of areas where people can enjoy clean, smokefree air. Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council, our parks, beaches and hospital grounds are smokefree. A number of City University of New York campuses declared themselves 100 percent smokefree as well. These actions not only protect us -- they reinforce the message that secondhand smoke is unsafe and exposure can be hazardous to health. Yet despite good choices being made by government and by organizations who've declared themselves smokefree, one place where too many New Yorkers find no escape from secondhand smoke is in their very own homes. This needs to change.

In cities like New York with dense populations and a prevalence of multi-family unit housing, it's no wonder that more people are exposed to secondhand smoke right in their own living rooms. If a neighbor smokes, the smoke can seep through the ventilation system and into other apartments. It's likely that common areas outside buildings are where people congregate to socialize and smoke. For parents of children with asthma and apartment dwellers living with lung disease, this is an absolute nightmare. just a breath of secondhand smoke can sometimes be enough to spur asthma or send a person with lung disease to the emergency room. Reducing secondhand smoke in shared housing is a public health issue that should concern all of us.

That is why we are encouraged by a recent proposal to require landlords to inform prospective tenants about whether or not their building has a smoking policy. It is a first step that has drawn positive comments from Mayor Bloomberg and City Council leaders, as well as from the city's Real Estate Board, which noted that a smokefree environment can lower maintenance and insurance costs. Smoking remains the leading cause of in-home fire deaths, according the United States Fire Administration, a division of the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Without a well-drafted smoking policy in place, even concerned and cooperative building managers find there is little they can do to help. Sympathy and understanding is no consolation for those who are suffering on a daily basis and are either trapped in a lease or unable to secure alternative smokefree housing that meets their requirements. Demand for smokefree housing in New York well exceeds the supply and it shows.

The American Lung Association is committed to remedying this situation and bringing more options to those who both need and desire to live in a smokefree environment. Our website (www.LungNE.org/nycsmokefreehousing), in addition to offering downloadable information for tenants, offers resources for landlords to help make their buildings smokefree.

Increasing the availability of smokefree housing is a critical step we need to take to reduce secondhand smoke exposure and promote improved lung health among those living in multi-unit housing. Everyone's home should be their sanctuary and the one place where they feel confident they have control over their own health. The American Lung Association continues to fight so that we will one day live in a world where people are free from unwanted exposure to deadly secondhand smoke in their own homes.