Over the past 20+ years as a tobacco control advocate I have met some pretty special people – one of the most memorable has been Kenneth Leung, who, at the time I met him in 2007 was 77 years old and ready to fight for the right to be able to breath in his own home.
A former smoker, he had emphysema and had quickly realized that shortly after moving into a senior housing complex in Alameda that his health was deteriorating due to the smoke drifting into his apartment from his downstairs neighbor. Although the property manager offered to move him to a “safer” unit, he refused because “someone else would be put into harm’s way.”
He called the American Lung Association and found me who asked him to wait until I could set aside some time to help him. He didn’t listen. He began to organize his fellow residents to advocate for non-smoking buildings within the 168-unit complex. He brought the issue up with the City of Alameda Housing Commission, ultimately recruiting nine other tenants to attend a commission meeting and brought letters of support from an additional eight residents.
As a result of his efforts, the Smoking Policy Committee was established in July 2007 with Housing Authority staff, residents from the Independence Plaza complex including Mr. Leung, and me. He had started the “revolution” without me and now I was joining in to help him bring it to a successful outcome. Along the way, he worked with the Chinese-speaking residents who made up about a quarter of the residents to ensure that they understood the process.
He told me that when he turned 70 he sat down and reviewed his life to see what achievements he was most proud of. “I had nothing. What I can do here [for smokefree housing] is going to be it,” he explained to me. How could I not help this man!
On April 16, 2008, the Housing Commission voted unanimously to convert all of their properties to completely smoke-free campuses, including the units beginning with the 168 units at Independence Plaza. His actions led to the Housing Authority deciding to prohibit smoking in the 500+ units they manage. In 2011, the City of Alameda followed suit and voted to make all apartments and condos in the city non-smoking.
In 2008, the Alameda County Tobacco Control Coalition gave him an outstanding achievement award for his efforts.Kenneth Leung, the man with the heart of a lion, passed away on Feb. 4, 2013, from pneumonia.
Please help us continue to be able to carry on Mr. Leung’s legacy of Fighting for Air! The American Lung Association in California’s Fight For Air Climbs are happening around the state starting in March. Get involved today!