Smoking in public housing in the US should be banned, claim scientists, for it threatens the health of not only the smoker, but the non-smokers too who live in the same environment.
"Research shows that those living in multiple-unit housing are being exposed to toxins from tobacco smoke. Even if you are not a smoker and don't smoke inside of your own apartment, if you have a neighbour who is smoking inside of his, the entire building is contaminated," says Jonathan Winickoff, lead author and pediatrician at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC).
While surveys indicate that 4 in 5 non-smokers in US prefer smoke-free building policies, and many private landlords throughout the country have made their housing units smoke-free, only about 4 percent of PHAs(Public Housing Authorities) have banned smoking in the units they manage.
Although the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a memorandum that strongly encouraged local PHAs to implement non-smoking policies, medical experts suggest that it could do more to prod lagging PHAs to take action.
Studies have shown that even brief exposures to tobacco smoke can adversely affect nonsmokers, especially children, who experience increased rates and severity of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Tobacco smoke can move along air ducts, through cracks in the walls and floors, through elevator shafts, and along plumbing and electrical lines to affect units on other floors. Tobacco toxins from smoke are deposited on indoor surfaces and reemitted in the air over a period of days to years, and are found on rugs, furniture, clothing, and floors - all surfaces that children crawl and play on.
Experts also warn that not only does the smoke harm children, it normalizes smoking for them, possibly encouraging them to initiate too.
"As we move forward and further explore public housing policy, it is important to remember that the status quo is not acceptable for America's children," says Winickoff.
The report appears in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.