July 28, 2016
By Jennifer Bihm
On April 6, organizers of UCLA SAFE (Smoke Free Air For Everyone) launched a three year program aimed at increasing access to smoke free apartments in low-income neighborhoods in the city of Los Angeles. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the program is mainly aimed at African American and Latino residents of public and low income housing. The project coincides, say organizers, with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s upcoming nationwide ban on smoking in public housing, including inside individual tenant units.
“With secondhand smoke being a leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., the UCLA-S.A.F.E. project aims to reduce chronic diseases among the most vulnerable populations in Los Angeles,” said a program spokesperson.
“Under this project, Smokefree Apartments Los Angeles will effectively target Latino and African-American renters across Los Angeles, with the goal of reducing their harmful exposure to secondhand smoke. Smokefree apartments also contribute to the overall quality of local neighborhoods…”
UCLA SAFE officials said they will use the CDC funding to provide outreach to landlords, informing them of the health and financial benefits of smoke free apartments as well as providing them with tools to simplify the process of enacting no smoking policies. Meanwhile, questions have been raised about the potential unfairness of smoke free public housing policies toward low income residents who smoke, and who have limited housing options.
Supporters of the program who have been attempting to allay those fears cited surveys pointing to a widely positive response from residents who wish to live in smoke free apartments.
Peggy Toy, Project Director said that the majority of surveyed tenants and landlords support smokefree apartment policies. About 82 percent of tenants said they would prefer to live in a smokefree apartment. Ironically, those who smoke were even more likely to support a smokefree policy, about 85 percent, she said.
FAME Corporation, an organization housing low income residents in Los Angeles, implemented its no smoking policy earlier this year. Inside the complex, no smoking signs abound along with information for those who smoke on smoking cessation resources. FAME is one of UCLA SAFE’s partners.
“Helping residents in low-income, high-need communities to combat exposure to unwanted, drifting secondhand smoke is a natural fit with our mission to empower communities to be healthy places,” explained FAME President and CEO Denise Brown.
UCLA SAFE said they are targeting African American and Latino residents since the two groups are more likely to suffer chronic diseases like asthma and heart disease, which are aggravated by second hand smoke.
“Limited housing options for these tenants make the elimination of secondhand smoke even more critical,” they said.
According to HUD, smoking causes over 100,000 apartment fires each year, resulting in deaths and close to half a billion dollars in property damage. Smoking kills nearly 500,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC.
“There is no safe level of second hand smoke, “ said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
“So, when 58 million Americans, including 15 million children are exposed to second hand smoke, we have a responsibility to act.”
Project partners joining UCLA in these efforts include the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, CDTech, FAME Corporations, ChangeLab Solutions, the American Lung Association, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Los Angeles Unified School District Student Health and Human Services, USC Tobacco Center for Regulatory Sciences in Vulnerable Populations and the UCLA School of Medicine.
Other supporting organizations include the American Heart Association, the California Department of Public Health, Los Angeles City Attorney Michael N. Feuer, the California Endowment, the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity and UCLA Cancer Prevention and Control.