LOS ANGELES, CA | May 5, 2020
“Our lives literally depended on moving,” said Dorothy Calderon. “This is the worst time to have a respiratory illness and my husband and I are both in our 50s. That ’s a risk we can’t take.”
On April 11, Dorothy and her husband Thomas moved out of their Downey apartment due to concerns of secondhand smoke infiltrating their apartment. Despite the current pandemic, they felt it was imperative to break their lease and move to a new apartment complex in Santa Fe Springs.
“If I survive COVID-19 and die from lung disease caused by secondhand smoke, then what ’s the point?” Calderon asked.
COVID-19 is causing severe respiratory illness and outcomes can be more severe in people with compromised lung health, chronic lung disease, and moderate to severe asthma. People who smoke or vape tobacco or marijuana may be at a higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms and have higher fatality rates than non-smokers according to recent studies.
Protecting lung health starts at home. Tenants can work with landlords to create a safe environment during the current pandemic and beyond.
Smokefree policies have become more widespread in recent years, largely because they are considered a boon to public health. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development implemented a nationwide ban on smoking at all government-subsidized housing,
Los Angeles has tens of thousands of confirmed cases of the novel Coronavirus and the virus affects all segments of the population. About half of Angelenos rent their homes or apartments and many reside in apartment buildings, multi-unit houses, or condos that share walls and common areas with neighbors. A 2017 public opinion survey of the City of Bell Gardens found that 79 percent of respondents had attempted to block secondhand smoke from infiltrating their home.
“There is absolutely nothing you can do about it - the smoke just permeates,” Calderon said.
In addition to being a nuisance, secondhand smoke is a health hazard for residents and can lead to serious health problems including lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke, and can make asthma worse in adults and children. The Centers for Disease Control report that there is no safe exposure to secondhand smoke.
“We had headaches every day and were starting to get sick,” Calderon said.
In addition to the concerns she had about her own family ’s health, Calderon said that other neighbors in the building, including those with young kids and pets, also reported secondhand smoke entering their apartments.
Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence. An estimated 44 percent to 53 percent of multi-unit housing residents have experienced secondhand smoke infiltration in their home from elsewhere in or around the building, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Despite the majority support for smoke-free buildings, only 30 percent had complained to the building management. More than half cited fear of eviction as the reason that they didn’t speak up.
“I would tell people to speak up more and speak up each time it happens,” Calderon said. “The more people who speak up, the more people who could potentially change the situation where they live.”
The chemicals from secondhand smoke are not only dangerous to residents but can be devastating to the entire apartment building. Many insurance policies offer discounts for smokefree residents since the risk of unintentional fire is much lower. Experts estimate that insurance can be as much as 20 percent higher for smokers.
Smokefree policies in multi-unit housing not only protect residents against secondhand smoke, and the risk of unintentional fires but also from thirdhand smoke. Thirdhand smoke occurs when residue from tobacco smoke sticks to surfaces such as carpets and walls. These toxins can linger for months and re-enter the air. Children and pets may be most vulnerable.
A 2017 public opinion survey of the City of Bell Gardens, conducted by the American Lung Association, found that 98 percent of respondents felt secondhand smoke was harmful to their health and there is popular support for smokefree housing and outdoor spaces. This community support led to the City of Bell Gardens to approve a smokefree multiunit housing ordinance in October 2019.
“The smokefree designation was extremely top of the list,” Calderon said about their new apartment complex which is costlier and in a different city from the apartment the Calderons vacated.
As of February 2019, there are 101 municipalities in California that have passed smoke-free policies in multiunit housing.
Tenants can find additional resources for talking to their landlords and neighbors on Lung.org, here.
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through education, advocacy and research. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to champion clean air for all; to improve the quality of life for those with lung disease and their families; and to create a tobacco-free future. For more information about the American Lung Association, which has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and is a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.
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