Smokefree Multiunit Housing: Why It Matters and How to Make It Happen

Multiunit housing residents don’t just share a roof. They also breathe up to 65% of the same air. Toxic secondhand smoke travels from unit to unit through floorboards, light fixtures, cracks, gaps, phone and cable jacks, electrical outlets, windows, doors and ventilation systems. All it takes is five minutes of exposure to wreak havoc on our health … and our homes. Whether you’re a resident or property owner, here’s why going smokefree is the only truly safe option — and how to make the switch.

A Property Owner’s Guide to Going Smokefree

Ready to implement a smokefree policy in your multiunit building?

Here’s where to start.

1. Survey your current residents.

This will help you determine how much support you already have … and how much resistance you’ll face. If residents do not support a smokefree policy, ask them why.

2. Develop your smokefree policy.

  • What’s your definition of smoking?
  • Which products are included in the policy (vapes, cigars, cannabis products, hookah, etc.)?
  • Where will smoking be banned?
  • Will smoking be permitted in a designated area?
  • Who must adhere to the policy (residents, guests, staff, etc.)?
  • When will the policy go into effect?
  • What are the penalties for breaking it?
  • How will you enforce it?

3. Notify residents.

The American Lung Association (ALA) recommends notifying residents of the new smokefree policy at least 60–90 days before it goes into effect. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Create a flyer. Outline your reasons for going smokefree, along with a summary of the info from #2. Display it near entrances and on residents’ doors.
  • Send an email. Better yet, send multiple emails. For your first email, include the flyer from above and offer to answer any questions residents may have. Then, send reminder emails as the big day approaches.
  • Post smokefree signage. You can download free, printable ALA signage here and here, or request free Breathe Easy OK decals here.

4. Promote your new smokefree status.

Most people will view your new smokefree policy as a perk, not a drawback. Why not include it in the amenities section of your listings, website, social media and marketing materials?

5 Tips for Residents Who Want Smokefree Multiunit Housing

Ready to clear the air with your landlord? Here’s how to set yourself up for success.

1. Keep a dated, detailed log of smoke-related problems.

  • When do you smell smoke?
  • Where is it entering your unit?
  • Have you experienced any health issues as a result?

2. Get clear on your goals.

  • Are you hoping to get out of your lease early?
  • Will you advocate for a totally (or partially) smokefree residence?
  • Or are you asking for a designated smoking area that’s located far away from windows, doorways and other common areas?

3. Do your research.

  • Review local laws and your current lease. If you live in public housing funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, smoking indoors is already illegal.
  • Make a list of the dangers of secondhand smoke and why going smokefree is better for business — just in case your landlord isn’t convinced.

4. Enlist help.

  • Ask for a doctor’s note that outlines why smoking is harmful for your health.
  • Talk with your neighbors to see if they’re willing to advocate for smokefree housing.

5. Use a friendly tone.

Give your landlord the benefit of the doubt, and start the conversation with something like:

  • “Lately, I’ve been smelling smoke in my apartment. Have any other residents reported this issue? How can we address it?”
  • “Are you open to enacting a smokefree policy for our building? I’m concerned for my health.”

With a little research, planning and effort, your multiunit building can be safe, smokefree … and smell-free, too. Want to see more smokefree spaces in Oklahoma? Learn more here.

Smokefree Multiunit Housing Protects Our Health

Just 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart damage similar to that of an everyday smoker. It contains thousands of toxic chemicals that cause cancer, heart disease and a slew of other chronic health issues. In the short term, secondhand smoke leads to everything from bronchitis and asthma attacks to irritation of the eyes and lungs.

Additionally, smoking-related fires are the leading cause of fire deaths — and even when the smoke clears, the risks remain. This is due to a lesser-known threat, thirdhand smoke, which is surface residue that lingers in homes for months. Not only is it nearly impossible (and expensive) to remove, it’s why children can still exhibit signs of secondhand smoke exposure even when no one in the home smokes. This puts them at a greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and severe asthma. The only proven way to keep residents and employees safe is to enact smokefree policies in multiunit residences.

Take it from Alexis Burris, manager of health promotions for the American Lung Association (ALA)  in Oklahoma: “Implementing a smokefree policy creates a clean and healthier environment for residents, staff and guests. It can be stress-free — and you don’t have to do it alone.” An added bonus? It’s one effective way to help current smokers quit.

Smokefree Housing is Good for Everyone

The benefits of clean indoor air extend beyond our health. An overwhelming majority of renters support smokefree policies. In a 2015 survey from the American Lung Association, over half of residents in multiunit buildings reported smelling tobacco smoke from inside their own homes. Additionally, 71% said they do not smoke in their unit — and 71% would also prefer to live in smokefree spaces. Plus, happy residents are more likely to renew their leases! Passing a smokefree policy prevents damage to floors, drapery, appliances, ceilings and painted surfaces — and thousands of dollars in repair and rehabilitation costs per unit.

Published by Tobacco Stops With Me on May 16, 2022