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Ban smoking in rental housing

A new study shows one way to help smokers quit their deadly habit: Make it more inconvenient.

How do you do that? Don't allow smoking in rental housing units.

Not only will smokers be less inclined to light up if they have to leave the building to do it, it will result in a healthier living environment for other tenants as well.

Smoke-free policies have the potential to provide healthier environments at multi-family, public housing while also motivating residents to quit or smoke less. That's according to a new study by the Minnesota Department of Health's Office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiatives.

The eight public housing properties in the study implemented smoke-free policy changes after working with local public health agencies through the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP).

After the smoke-free policies were implemented, the study found a 46 percent drop in frequent indoor secondhand smoke exposure among non-smokers.

In addition, 77 percent of smokers reported reducing the amount they smoke and 5 percent reported that they had quit. Smokers noted the policy change was as much of a factor in their reduced smoking as wanting to improve their health.

"These results show that implementing smoke-free policies at public housing properties can produce positive results and healthier environments," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger. "These policies protect residents, who are more likely to experience tobacco-related health inequities and be exposed to dangerous secondhand smoke in their homes."

According to Ehlinger, the work by SHIP grantees and other partners puts the state in a "strong position" to prepare for proposed changes by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that would prohibit the use of cigarettes, cigars or pipes in all public housing living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices and possibly outdoor areas within 25 feet of housing and administrative office buildings.

The final rule is expected this fall.

The mix of urban and rural properties that participated in the study prohibited smoking in all indoor areas, and three properties prohibited smoking on all outdoor grounds. Participating properties had a high proportion of seniors as residents.

The health department pointed out that smoke in housing developments can easily pass from one unit to another through walls, doors and shared ventilation systems.

The percentage of residents reporting exposure to secondhand smoke a few times per month decreased from 44 percent to 24 percent after the properties went smoke free.

Besides helping people live longer, healthier lives, there are dollars at stake as well. HUD estimates that annual cost savings nationally from eliminating smoking in public housing would be $153 million; the bulk of the savings would come from reduced health care costs related to secondhand smoke. In Minnesota, smoking causes more than $2.5 billion in medical costs annually.

This editorial originally ran in the Alexandria Echo Press, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.