August 10, 2010 - The Boston Housing Authority is considering a proposal that could make the city the largest in the nation to ban smoking in all public housing. The measure would prohibit residents from smoking in their apartments or in common areas of the city's 64 public housing developments. Mayor Thomas Menino says when people smoke it affects the health of all residents in the building. (Boston weighs smoke-free public housing, Associated Press, 7/27/2010)
But while residents deserve to make their own health decisions, their actions shouldn’t burden their neighbors with second-hand smoke and fuel a burgeoning asthma epidemic.
Current law already guarantees smoke-free environments in the city’s indoor workplaces, including restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. (n July 2004, Massachusetts banned smoking inside of restaurants, bars, and the workplace as part of an effort to decrease secondhand smoke exposure. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports that exposure to secondhand smoke decreased among adult nonsmokers from 32 percent in 2002 to 15 percent in 2008. However, according to National Public Radio, while overall smoking rates have decreased significantly since the 1960’s, smoking rates for low-income Americans remain high. (Not in Here You Don’t: Plans to Ban Smoking in Boston Public Housing, SpareChangeNews.net, 3/26/2010) A prime motivation is to protect workers from second-hand smoke. Likewise, in dense multifamily housing developments, smoke-filled air can travel under doors, between cracks, and through air ducts. A resident who smokes at home can affect everyone living in a building, including children, pregnant women, the elderly, and the disabled.
Compared to other states and metropolitan areas, Massachusetts and Boston suffer from disproportionately high asthma rates, especially among young people and low-income populations. Asthma, which can be induced or aggravated by second-hand smoke, is the number one chronic condition treated in the Boston public school system. And neighborhoods with many of the city’s public housing developments — including Dorchester and Roxbury — report some of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in the state.
In addition, a recent study from the University of Michigan demonstrated that people who receive high levels of public support, including subsidized housing, are much more likely to have asthma than those who do not.
Some who support the ban in theory are worried that it will be difficult to implement. For an answer, they can look to Maine, where 18 of 20 public housing authorities have already outlawed smoking. They found that once implemented, the bans tend to be largely self-enforcing. Tenants report problems, and violations are treated like any other breach of lease.
If Boston’s proposal succeeds, the housing authority would become one of the largest in the country to carry out such an initiative. Other municipalities are taking note. If the city follows through with its proposal, Boston can enhance the lives of its own residents while striking a meaningful blow against one of the nation’s most deadly, and most easily correctible, public-health problems: smoking.
Reference: Boston should ban smoking in all public-housing units, Boston Globe Editorials, Boston.com, 8/9/2010.
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