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John Woods: HUD rule will protect residents, staff from secondhand smoke exposure

More homes will be smokefree at the end of this month when a federal rule takes effect. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development passed the rule earlier this year that makes most residences managed by public housing authorities smokefree by July 31.

In Oklahoma, roughly 104 public housing agencies administering low-income, conventional public housing across the state will implement the new rule that will protect residents, guests and employees from secondhand smoke.

There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. No matter how smokers and nonsmokers are separated in multi-unit housing, everyone is exposed to toxins and chemicals that cause numerous health problems in infants and children and increase the risk of developing heart disease and cancer. Secondhand smoke spreads through doors, windows, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, crawl spaces and gaps around sinks, countertops and walls.

The federal rule covers all indoor areas including individual living units, common areas, administrative office buildings and outdoor areas within 25 feet. The rule prohibits the use of cigarettes, hookahs, cigars and pipes. While the rule does not include electronic cigarettes, some public housing agencies have chosen to adopt policies that provide additional protection for residents.

As part of their work in communities, TSET Healthy Living Program staff across the state have partnered with 18 public housing agencies to assist in smoke-free or tobacco-free policy passage and implementation. Their work includes educating on resources available through the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline and assisting with signage to help enforce policy. The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, is a program of TSET that offers free tobacco cessation coaching and nicotine replacement therapy to Oklahomans who register for services.

While the federal rule requires housing authorities to adopt smokefree policies, some housing authorities are doing more. Half of the public housing authorities that partnered with TSET Healthy Living Program grants chose to go beyond the basic rules to expand their smoke-free area, making the entire property smoke-free.

The Idabel, Tecumseh and Choctaw Electric housing authorities went above and beyond the provisions of the HUD rule and adopted policies that protect residents from all tobacco use, including vapor devices on all public housing agency property at all times.  The TSET Healthy Living Program’s work with public housing agencies protects 3,400 residents living in 1,852 housing units from tobacco use. In addition, 176 housing authority employees will benefit from a smoke-free working environment.

I want applaud these partnerships and their commitment to building a healthier future for Oklahomans. TSET is committed to assisting Oklahomans in becoming tobacco free where they live, work, learn and play. Tobacco-free policies in multi-unit housing protect residents, reduce insurance costs and save thousands in maintenance expenses. No matter how smokers and nonsmokers are separated, everyone is exposed and there is no safe level of secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is proven to cause heart disease, stroke and cancer. Read more about the benefits of smokefree multi-unit housing here.

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the United States. In Oklahoma, smoking kills 7,500 each year and every Oklahoma household – smoking or non-smoking – pays $812 in state and federal taxes to offset smoking-related costs to government. 

Working together, we can continue to create opportunities for healthy choices and protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air.