The need for affordable housing in San Diego County has reached crisis level, so we should all support the San Diego City Council and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors latest plan to solve this growing problem.
Housing is indeed a human right, and so is the right to live in a healthy environment free from exposure to environmental toxins like second- and third-hand smoke. The Housing Element of the city’s General Plan contains a provision calling for consideration of a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance for multifamily housing properties that covers the entire property.
As the city and county move forward with plans to construct the proposed 10,000 units of subsidized housing using taxpayer funds, they must stay true to the statement in Goal 4 of the plan that says, “every household deserves to live in housing free from damage, deterioration and pollution.” Officials can do this by prohibiting smoking in all newly constructed housing units from the beginning.
There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. It can drift into housing units through windows, walls, hallways and air ducts. Research has shown that ventilation cannot eliminate the health risks of exposure.
Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, including severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome. Each year in the United States, 41,000 nonsmoking adults die from secondhand smoke exposure.
Smoke-free policies are also good for business and the life of a housing property. Thirdhand smoke, the carcinogen-infused residue that is left behind when someone smokes indoors, stays on countertops, walls, and other household surfaces.
This residue poses a unique health risk because it reacts with the air to make additional pollutants. The San Diego Housing Commission reports that costs to renovate smoking units are often three to seven times greater than non-smoking units.
Comprehensive smoke-free policies will protect the health of families living in these new properties while at the same time extending the life of the units while mitigating damage from smoking and lowering maintenance and repair costs.
Collaboration between local governments to increase access to affordable housing is important, but let’s not compromise the health of residents in the process. Protecting public health is good for people, good for business and good for the long-term success of housing projects like these.
Hai Ly Tran is as a lecturer in ethnic studies at UC San Diego and a public health advocate for Community Action Service and Advocacy (CASA), a non-profit organization which works to empower individuals and create safe and healthy neighborhoods in San Diego.