Should the release of poison gases in apartments be prohibited?

By Guest Blogger  – Serena Chen, American Lung Association in California

Hmm.  Let me think about that.   Uh, yeah.  This poison gas has arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide among the 4,000 toxic chemicals that are released and it’s otherwise known as secondhand tobacco smoke.   The New England Journal of Medicine published an article last week called Regulation of Smoking in Public Housing by Jonathan Winickoff, MD,  Mark Gottlieb, JD, and  Michelle Mello, JD, PhD – adding yet another set of powerful voices calling for restrictions on smoking where people live.  This article covers the health and ethical reasons why smoke should be prohibited in public housing.

The first salvo came last July  when HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing released a strongly worded memo to every housing authority in the United States, strongly encouraging them to adopt smoke-free units restrictions.   As of May 2010, at least 166 housing authorities have adopted some smoke-free housing policies thanks to smoke-free advocates who have been actively working on this issue since 2005.  And the numbers are growing quickly, as of 2005, over 2.3 housing authorities a month are adopting new rules.

Our fellow advocates in the Midwest and North Atlantic states started in 2005 and now have the bragging rights for the most number of housing authorities with smoke-free policies.  And the winner is Michigan with 38, then Minnesota (23), and Maine (19). 

Among the Pacific states, Washington has 8, Oregon has 11 including the sizable Portland Housing Authority, and California coming in with just seven (7) – and that is out of 55 housing authorities in the state which provide public housing.

In April another great resource came from our friends in Michigan – the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium which just published an easy-to-read legal document (no that’s not an oxymoron!) called

 Secondhand Smoke Seepage into Multi-Unit Affordable Housing by Susan Schoenmarklin, JD,  which covers the nearly all the legal concerns that affordable housing providers have regarding converting units to non-smoking.  Every housing authority I’ve spoken with has asked for a copy when I tell them about it. Contact me if you’d like a copy.

And for those of you working with non-profit affordable housing providers, please know that a memo from HUD addressing these folks is due any day now.  Stay tuned!


  1. Galen Yuen
    Posted Jun 23, 2010 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Great job on the blog. It’s good to know that there is some public housing with a smoke free environment.

  2. Bill Godshall
    Posted Jun 23, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    While I’ve long advocated for smokefree policies for apartments, if the ALA truly desired to rapidly reduce tobacco smoke pollution exposure in apartments and other indoor areas exempted from smokefree workplace laws, it would stop misleading the public to believe that smokefree tobacco products and electronic cigarettes are just as hazardous as combustible cigarettes, and it would stop trying to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes, which only protects cigarette markets and harms public health.

  3. Raveen Sharma
    Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand how smokers can argue against this. It reaks of selfishness.

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