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Smoke-Free Housing in Wisconsin: Clear Gains

An increasing number of multi-unit residential buildings are adopting a smoke-free policy, with support from the American Lung Association in Wisconsin. (Wikimedia Commons)
An increasing number of multi-unit residential buildings are adopting a smoke-free policy, with support from the American Lung Association in Wisconsin. (Wikimedia Commons)
June 13, 2016

BROOKFIELD, Wis. – Secondhand smoke contains more than 70 substances known to cause cancer, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has proposed that all public housing authorities implement smoke-free policies.

While the final ruling on this isn't expected until this fall, Wisconsin already is making progress on smoke-free policies for multi-unit housing.

Deborah Grayson, manager of the Smoke-Free Multi-Unit Housing Program of the American Lung Association in Wisconsin, says many Wisconsinites already support the proposal.

"I think with the Clean Air law that's been implemented and people are now used to going to work and having a smoke-free environment,” she states. “Going to restaurants and bars and having a smoke-free environment, I think they realize they can have it in their home and they want it in their home."

Grayson says as it stands now, one in three nonsmokers in rental housing is exposed to secondhand smoke, and children who breathe secondhand smoke are more likely to have respiratory illnesses.

She says eliminating smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to protect nonsmokers from exposure.

Wisconsin's statewide program that provides resources and assistance to property owners and tenants is called Clear Gains, funded by the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.

Grayson says numerous Wisconsin housing authorities already are on board with smoke-free public housing.

"Green Bay Housing Authority, which was the largest housing authority to first go smoke-free in Wisconsin,” she states. “Beloit Housing Authority has gone smoke-free. Milwaukee has what they call asthma-friendly buildings – I think there's 16 units – the whole public housing isn't smoke-free."

Madison also has a number of smoke-free public housing units. Many rural housing authorities already have implemented policies in their properties.

According to Grayson, there are economic benefits to smoke-free multi-unit housing over and above the obvious medical cost reductions.

She says smoking-related fires are the leading cause of fire deaths. She says cleaning and turnover costs are two to three times higher for a smoked-in unit.

But there are still those who resist the idea.

"The argument I hear is that smokers feel like it's their right to smoke, and I just think it's everybody's right to breathe clean air, and I think if we can help have clean air for everybody, that's the important thing," she states.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI