Pushing for more smoke-free apartments in LA

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In an effort to fight the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, a public-private partnership launched Wednesday will seek to persuade apartment and condominium owners in the city of Los Angeles to make their buildings smoke-free.

Eighty percent of tenants in the city either live in a building that doesn't have a smoke-free policy or they don't know if such a policy is in place, according to a survey released Tuesday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. And while owners of market-rate properties have the right to voluntarily implement smoke-free policies, a second Center for Health Policy Research survey found that a number of them are unaware that this is an option.

The outreach campaign is a partnership among a number of public and private institutions, including UCLA, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles and the American Lung Association.  

An ad for the Smokefree Apartments Los Angeles campaign.
An ad for the Smokefree Apartments Los Angeles campaign. Smokefree Apartments Los Angeles

In the survey of nearly 1,000 renters in private multi-unit complexes, 37 percent said secondhand smoke had drifted into their apartment in the past year. Twenty-four percent of respondents said they or a family member have a chronic health condition, which can be exacerbated by exposure to secondhand smoke.

Adopting smoke-free policies would not only improve public health, the UCLA researchers argue, but it would also save property owners money. They point to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Public Health that found the average cost to maintain and turn over a smoked-in apartment for the next resident is $4,935.

"We have an incredible opportunity to spark long overdue change that will protect renters' health and landlords' bottom lines," Marlene Gomez, the campaign's manager, said in a statement. "Together we're going to ensure that all of L.A. can breathe easy in their own home."

The Center for Health Policy Research's findings about landlords were based on surveys with 93 multi-unit property owners and managers.

There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among children, it can trigger more frequent and severe asthma attacks and cause pneumonia and bronchitis; the CDC says it can cause heart disease, lung cancer and stroke in adults.

The researchers note that L.A.'s rent control law is one barrier to implementing smoke-free policies in privately-owned apartments and condominiums.

The rent control law, which applies to apartments built before Oct. 1978, prevents property owners from incorporating new policies – including smoke-free policies - for existing tenants. Most of the city's multifamily units in the city are covered by rent control, according to the L.A. Housing and Community Investment Department.

The researchers recommend that the city's Rent Stabilization Board, in collaboration with the city’s housing department, develop guidelines for implementing non-smoking provisions in compliance with the rent control law.

The Housing Authority of the County of L.A. adopted a smoke-free policy in public housing in 2014 and the Housing Authority of the City of L.A. is moving towards a smoke-free policy for its public housing by 2018. Nine cities in L.A. County have also implemented smoke-free housing policies, according to the Center for Health Policy Research.

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