News release: Smoke-free public housing helps Minnesota cut second-hand smoke exposure by nearly half

News Release
July 21, 2016

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Smoke-free public housing helps Minnesota cut secondhand smoke exposure by nearly half

Smoke-free policies have the potential to provide healthier environments at multifamily, public housing while also motivating residents to quit or smoke less, according to a new study by the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiatives.

The eight public housing properties in this study implemented smoke-free policy changes after working with local public health agencies through the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP).

After the smoke-free policies were implemented, the study found a 46 percent drop in frequent indoor secondhand smoke exposure among non-smokers. In addition, 77 percent of smokers reported reducing the amount they smoke and 5 percent reported that they had quit. Smokers noted the policy change was as much of a factor in their reduced smoking as wanting to improve their health.

“These results show that implementing smoke-free policies at public housing properties can produce positive results and healthier environments,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “These policies protect residents, who are more likely to experience tobacco-related health inequities and be exposed to dangerous secondhand smoke in their homes.”

The work by SHIP grantees and other partners puts the state in a strong position to prepare for proposed changes by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that would prohibit the use of cigarettes, cigars or pipes in all public housing living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices and possibly outdoor areas within 25 feet of housing and administrative office buildings. The final rule is expected this fall.

The mix of urban and rural properties that participated in the study prohibited smoking in all indoor areas, and three properties prohibited smoking on all outdoor grounds. Participating properties had a high proportion of seniors as residents.

Smoke in housing developments can easily pass from one unit to another through walls, doors and shared ventilation systems. The percentage of residents reporting exposure to secondhand smoke a few times per month decreased from 44 percent to 24 percent after the properties went smoke free.

SHIP grantees are working across Minnesota to help implement smoke-free policies at public housing and privately owned properties in their communities to ensure greater access to quality, smoke-free housing. Between November 2013 and August 2015, SHIP grantees and their partners achieved smoke-free policies at 365 rental properties. Currently, SHIP grantees are working with an additional 250 properties.

HUD estimates that annual cost savings nationally from eliminating smoking in public housing would be $153 million; the bulk of the savings would come from reduced health care costs related to secondhand smoke. In Minnesota, smoking causes more than $2.5 billion in medical costs annually.

For a second component of this study, MDH interviewed local public health staff and property managers and owners of affordable housing properties who have implemented smoke-free housing policies.

Factors that led to greater implementation and enforcement success included educating staff and residents on the adverse health effects of second- and third-hand smoke (residual nicotine and other toxins left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke), receiving assistance from experts such as local public health staff and technical assistance providers, emphasizing the economic benefits of going smoke free and practicing consistent enforcement policies.

An article about the study is expected to be published in Preventing Chronic Disease in late August. Get more information about the study at Statewide Health Improvement Program Evaluation Studies.


Media inquiries:

Scott Smith
MDH Communications