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Experts urge citizens to adopt DC No-Smoking policy

By Savannah Harris/Howard University News Service
On October 25, 2015

Studies show smoke, second-hand smoke lead to more deaths in the Black community than any other illness.

Nearly 45,000 African Americans die per year from smoke-related diseases such as heart disease, strokes and lung cancer. More Black lives are lost to these illnesses than to homicide, diabetes, AIDS and accidents combined, experts say.

Additionally, nearly 68 percent of African-American children between the ages of three and 11 are exposed to secondhand smoke, which can lead to a host of respiratory issues, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Armed with those numbers, Washington health experts are calling for more smoke-free public spaces, specifically housing, in the District as a tool to tackle smoking-related death disparities for African Americans.

The health officials were part of a panel at Howard University discussing smoke-free initiatives during a weeklong series geared towards smoking cessation. DC Tobacco Free Coalition and the D.C. Department of Health sponsored the series.

The panelists said they hope to transform homes in the District into safe places for people to raise children without the threat of second and third-hand smoke.

Smoke-free policies may be an inconvenience to smokers, especially those who don’t intend to quit, but the group argued that most residents are in favor of a smoke-free environment.

“The majority of residents tend to favor the new policies,” said Charles M. Sutton, project coordinator of Breathe DC’s Smoke Free Places, Home Healthy Home project.“But, there is a small minority that feels like its being imposed on them.”

Rochelle, 60, who declined to provide her last name, said the managers of her building in southeast Washington sprang the smoke-free policy on its residents without warning.

“One day we were in a meeting and the man who owned the property said, ‘We’re going to have no smoking,’” said Rochelle. “The next day there was a paper posted on our doors saying you can’t smoke in the building. I don’t think that was right.”

Rochelle said she has lived in her building for 28 years and has been smoking in her unit up until this year. The new policy states that residents cannot smoke anywhere on the property. This forces the elderly and disabled residents who smoke to leave the premises every time they want a cigarette.

“I have to go from the third floor, downstairs, across the street, then down the street to go smoke,” said Rochelle. “And I’m 60-years-old, so that’s a walk for me.”

The goal is for longtime smokers to eventually quit, but it is a difficult road. Statistics from a National Health Interview survey show only 3.3 percent of African Americans who attempted to quit did not relapse after six months, compared to 6 percent of Whites.

Avoiding smoke-related diseases and keeping residents safe from second and third-hand smoke is a priority for property management companies, but not the only benefit.

Kayla Robinson, a panelist at the conference and an assistant manager at R Street Apartments, said preparing a unit for a new tenant after a smoker has inhabited it is expensive.

“We made the smoke-free decision first for residents’ health, but the turnover expense is very high,” said Robinson.

“It costs five to six times as much to fully rehab a unit after a heavy smoker has lived there,” said Alexandra Nassau-Brownstone of Somerset Development Companies.

Residents who smoke inside have little control over where the smoke travels. It can be smelled in hallways and leaves residue throughout the unit.

Leftover smoke residue found in the home of a smoker permeates the walls, carpet, flooring, clothing and curtains, according to health experts.

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