The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) recognizes all 25 public housing authorities (PHAs) in the state for achieving 100 percent state compliance with a new federal rule that will protect nearly 15,000 multi-unit housing residents from toxic secondhand smoke indoors.
One-hundred percent of Rhode Island's PHAs have implemented smoke-free policies that meet or exceed a new rule from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which takes effect July 31, 2018 to protect all housing residents, visitors, and staff from lit secondhand cigarette smoke. Under the new federal rule, no smoking is allowed indoors anywhere; outdoors, cigarettes may not be smoked within 25 feet of buildings to help prevent smoke from drifting indoors through windows and doors.
"Everyone in every community deserves to breathe clean air where they live and work," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. "We applaud all of our state's Public Housing Authorities staff who worked with their residents closely in recent years to meet HUD's new requirements. Many of our forward-thinking PHAs have exceeded HUD's minimum requirements to protect residents from more toxic chemicals from other products, and have taken extra steps to listen to smokers' concerns and help connect those who want to quit to no-cost cessation services. This is a big step in our collective efforts to build more just, equitable communities in every corner of Rhode Island."
Residents who smoke are not banned from living within a PHA residence, but are asked to smoke outdoors beyond established buffer zones.
In recent years, some PHAs have elected to adopt even stronger "clean air" policies, by setting larger outdoor buffer zones, banning all outdoor smoking entirely, and/or restricting the use of burned products such as incense, hookah, and e-cigarettes. Such "no burn" policies are typically detailed in residents' leases. Any residents with questions should contact their housing manager or refer to their signed lease.
Smoke-free and tobacco-free policies help maintain healthier living conditions for residents, visitors, workers, and pets. Other benefits of smoke-free building policies may include reduced fire hazards, lower operating and maintenance costs, and fewer neighbor disputes. PHAs in other states have also realized lower insurance premiums.
The new HUD rule takes effect following several years of discussions and a public comment period that addressed the serious and often deadly health effects of secondhand smoke. Tobacco smoke contains more than 70 known cancer-causing particles and can trigger severe asthma attacks. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, no amount of cigarette smoke exposure is safe to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Secondhand smoke is especially harmful to people with chronic health conditions, the elderly, women who are pregnant, babies, children, as well as people with respiratory illnesses, weakened immune systems, and disabilities. People with chronic health conditions who live in public housing often do not have adequate access to health services or health insurance, while illnesses caused by secondhand smoke can cause great financial strain on individuals, regardless of their financial situations.
This new HUD rule will protect close to two million Americans nationwide from being exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes, including 690,000 children.
The new HUD rule also takes effect shortly after Rhode Island has included e-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) in the state's long-established Public Places and Workplace Safety Act. For PHA buildings, this means that Rhode Island state law also prohibits e-cigarettes from being used in any indoor or enclosed public common areas such as hallways, elevators, staircases, offices, laundry rooms, and recreation areas.
To learn more about or to receive free technical assistance on adopting smokefree, tobacco-free, and clean air policies for multi-housing properties, please contact the RIDOH Tobacco Control Program Live Smokefree Program at (401) 222-7637.
In Rhode Island, regardless of insurance or ability to pay, anyone who wants to quit smoking can get free cessation support services and free nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products by calling the Rhode Island Smokers' Helpline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).