Contributed by K.T. McKee
It seeps through vents, under doors, and through cracks in the walls or floors. And it can have devastating impacts on your health. If your neighbor smokes, you might too – against your will.
Secondhand smoke exposure in multi-unit housing complexes is a common problem and can be dangerous for you and your family. Exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to lung cancer, COPD, strokes, heart attacks, and asthma. It’s particularly dangerous for children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic health conditions such as respiratory or heart disease or diabetes.
For children and babies, it can result in permanent damage to growing lungs and cause respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, ear infections and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Little lungs breathe at a higher rate; pound for pound. Children breathe in nearly twice as much air as adults, resulting in higher toxic exposure.
Based on several studies, an estimated 44 percent to 53 percent of multi-unit housing residents that do not allow smoking in their homes have experienced secondhand smoke infiltration in their home from elsewhere in or around the building.
If this sounds familiar, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family:
· Check your lease or rental agreement to see if smoking is addressed or even allowed in your complex. If it is not permitted and you think you know where the smoke is coming from and feel comfortable talking with your neighbor, see if you can reach an agreement with that neighbor to take their smoking outside and away from building’s vents and doors.
· If you’re not comfortable approaching the smoker or don’t know where the smoke is coming from, let your landlord or property manager know of the issue. If that doesn’t solve the problem, please reach out to the American Lung Association office in Wasilla for assistance at 907-891-7443. We will discuss the issue with the landlord or property manager and provide resources and support to help you resolve the matter.
· If smoking is permitted in your apartment complex but you wish it wasn’t, American Lung Association will try to work with the property owner or manager and residents to come up with a plan to transition to a smoke free housing complex. Smoking is often still permitted a certain distance away from main doors, windows and vents.
· Through the Alaska Smoke Free Housing Partnership, we provide a comprehensive list of smoke free units throughout Alaska on the website www.smokefreehousingak.org. This allows you to search for apartments or condos in your area which prohibit smoking. This list is constantly being updated.
· Some of the more common groups or organizations in Mat-Su providing smoke free housing include Valley Residential Services, Great Western Service Residential Rentals, Charlene Moss Realty, Mat-Su Senior Services, Wasilla Area Seniors, and Somerset Pacific. We applaud them for standing up for health and also realizing being smoke free makes economic sense for them. Renovating an apartment that had been occupied by smokers can cost thousands. Eliminating smoking also reduces fire risk, which in the end saves lives and money.
· For a complete list of smoke free multi-unit housing options in Mat-Su, as well as tips on communicating with landlords and neighbors, and other useful resources, go to www.lung.org/smokefreehousing.
· To speak with a nurse or respiratory therapist about lung health issues, call our free Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA.
K.T. McKee is the Mat-Su Manager at the Wasilla office of the American Lung Association in Alaska. She can be reached at 907-891-7444, 357-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.