The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced a new rule requiring all public housing to adopt a 100 percent indoor smoke-free policy by midyear 2018. Fortunately, our own Minneapolis Public Housing Authority adopted a smoke-free policy in 2012. As a result, thousands of residents in 42 high-rise buildings are free from secondhand smoke exposure in their homes. Resident surveys found that six months after the smoking ban, weekly or daily exposure to secondhand smoke dropped by 50 percent.
Unfortunately, many low-income renters are still exposed to secondhand smoke on a daily basis, putting them at higher risk for cancer, heart disease and asthma. In fact, low-income residents are exposed to secondhand smoke at a higher rate than other renters. Part of the problem is the difficulty securing smoke-free housing in the private sector. The Minneapolis Health Department recently surveyed 888 Minneapolis rental property owners, and gathered information on 1,300 properties. The survey found that only 45 percent of properties with subsidized units are smoke-free, compared to a 71 percent smoke-free rate in the properties that do not accept low-income subsidies. This means that thousands of low-income residents have fewer options for safe and healthy housing.
The Health Department routinely receives calls from tenants experiencing secondhand smoke entering their home. They are concerned about their health and want assistance talking to their property owner about a smoke-free policy. Property owners stand to gain more than satisfied, healthier tenants. Smoke-free properties are safer from fire and far cheaper to clean and maintain. The Health Department is ready to help tenants and property managers create smoke-free housing so all Minneapolis residents, regardless of where they live, can breathe free.
Gretchen Musicant is the commissioner of health, Minneapolis Health Department.