Smoke-Free Apartments

Attendees learned of the smoke-free housing initiative at a meeting sponsored by Future Leaders of America. | Credit: Courtesy

Students at Future Leaders of America (FLA) hosted a community forum in late February to educate the families of Carpinteria about the harmful effects of secondhand smoke in their communities. In attendance were students, families, community members, nonprofits, as well as Carpinteria City Councilmember Natalia Alarcon and Santa Barbara County Board Supervisor Das Williams.

According to the CDC, there is no safe amount of secondhand smoke exposure and the home is the main place children and adults breathe in secondhand smoke. Supporters of smoke-free apartments believe such a policy is important to protect the health of non-smokers, especially low-income residents who live in these dense apartment complexes with shared walls.

Studies show that secondhand smoke can creep through doorways, cracks in walls, ventilation systems, electrical lines, and plumbing throughout the complex. Neighboring residents can be harmed by secondhand smoke even without being in the presence of a smoker in their individual unit.

For low-income Latinos, multi-unit housing properties are the only places we could afford to live in, and secondhand smoke is definitely something that negatively affects our population. I was a past tenant who suffered through second-hand smoke, and as a tenant, there’s not much you can do about it. You can voice your concerns to the property manager but since there is no policy, there is nothing that can be upheld.

Each year 28 million multi-unit housing residents are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and apartments. Many cities in California have already enacted laws to have smoke-free multi-unit housing including Berkeley, Culver City, Morro Bay, and Pasadena, and also Santa Clara County and many more. The youth at FLA are advocating for Carpinteria to be next.

Nadra Ehrman, who serves as a property manager for the Towbes Group, spoke on the benefits of a smoke-free multi-unit housing policy for property managers. The policy assists in asset management for properties because smoke repairs can be very expensive. The cleaning of a unit with a heavy smoker can cost up to $3,000 more than units that are smoke-free. Additionally, 7,600 smoking-related fires occur in residential buildings each year in the US. Ehrman also stated that over the 10 years since Towbes group implemented the smoke-free policy she’s only had three complaints out of approximately 1,000 residents. The benefits clearly outweigh the cost.

Overall the message from youth was made loud and clear: Secondhand smoke kills and everyone should have clean air to breathe where they live.

Ector Flores-Garcia is Carpinteria youth organizer for Future Leaders of America.

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