All Public Housing Goes Smoke-free on July 30

Monday, July 30, 2018 - 9:41am

Help available for property managers, tobacco users, says local health group

Starting Monday, July 30, all public housing authorities will be smoke-free due to a rule passed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The rule instructs all public housing authorities to implement a smoke-free policy that includes all living units and indoor common areas in public housing and public housing administrative buildings. Madison’s Community Development Authority (CDA) smoke-free policy went into effect January 1, 2018 and extends the rules set forth by HUD. CDA’s policy prohibits the use of all lit tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and hookah) and e-cigarettes on all CDA-owned grounds.

Local health advocates from Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) are celebrating the change. “We are excited for this new policy to go into effect nationwide and the positive health outcomes that will result because of it,” said Nina Gregerson, Health Education Coordinator for PHMDC. “We also commend the CDA for extending the policy to include e-cigarettes and cover all grounds. This is a win-win for CDA communities and the residents who live there.”

Public Health Madison and Dane County has worked closely with CDA management to ensure residents have opportunities to learn about the policy and educate about community resources to help residents quit or reduce their smoking. “We have held over 20 resident engagement sessions at CDA-owned properties since HUD’s decision to go smoke-free was announced in December 2016. During these engagement sessions, we have educated about the purpose of the policy, how secondhand smoke affects residents and pets living in public housing, and provided resources to help those who smoke to quit or reduce use. We also partnered with UW Health to link residents up with doctors to help them get professional quit smoking counseling and prescriptions for quit smoking medications,” said Gregerson. In fact, Gregerson mentions that in the two years she has worked with the CDA and its residents, many recognize the policy change as an opportunity to quit smoking. “I also know of a handful of residents who have quit smoking because of this policy change. It’s incredible.”

Tom Conrad, the Interim Executive Director of the CDA, states that residents are thankful for the policy. “We have heard comments from residents that they are thankful for this policy change. Though compliance was not perfect from the get-go, we are working with residents to ensure they have the resources they need to not violate the policy. No one should have to decide between their health and housing,” said Conrad.

The national policy will have many health and economic impacts. Secondhand smoke is one of the leading causes of asthma for children—a condition that disproportionately affect families living in public housing. Secondhand smoke exposure can also cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), lung cancer, and other respiratory diseases among non-smokers. The proposed smoke-free rule will reduce exposure of secondhand smoke and benefit the health of over 760,000 children under the age of 18 living in public housing and approximately 330,000 persons over the age of 62.

Economically, the policy is estimated to have large impacts on the costs of maintaining and renovating HUD-funded properties, as well as health care costs of residents and staff. A 2014 CDC study estimated the annual cost savings associated with banning smoking in public housing to be $153 million. This includes health care costs of residents and staff ($94 million), renovation costs ($43 million), and fire costs ($16 million).

While the HUD rule does not require people who smoke to quit, it does present them with a great opportunity to give up tobacco for good. Tobacco users who are ready to quit can call the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-Quit Now (784-8669) to receive free help. It also should be noted that public and private insurance may cover the costs of quit smoking medications, so please contact your doctor or insurance company to see what is covered!

Public Health Madison and Dane County is committed to helping owners/managers go smoke-free and is able to provide free signage, resources, and technical assistance. Property managers interested in passing voluntary smoke-free policies should contact Nina Gregerson at 608.243.0434 or ngregerson@publichealthmdc.com.

For more on the smoke-free HUD rule, visit https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/healthy_homes/smokefree.

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Health & Safety