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Majority of L.A. tenants favor smoke-free apartments, but 80 percent of units are still not protected

UCLA-led coalition launches citywide effort to promote smoke-free apartments

April 06, 2016

  • Terry Kanakri
  • 310-794-2172

Eight of 10 Los Angeles apartment dwellers are not protected from secondhand smoke, and an even bigger percentage — 82 percent — would support smoke-free policies in their buildings, according to a pair of new studies by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

The research was released today to coincide with the kickoff of a new citywide campaign to reduce secondhand smoke in multi-unit apartment buildings. (Read the studies of tenants and landlords).

The two studies outline findings from nearly 1,000 door-to-door interviews with tenants in some of the most densely populated areas of the city of Los Angeles, as well as reports submitted to UCLA by 93 owners of apartment buildings, who collectively represented more than 5,400 units.

Significant support for smoke-free policies
Although just 20 percent of apartments are covered by smoke-free policies, 82 percent of tenants said they would prefer to live in a smoke-free apartment — and those who smoke were even more likely (85 percent) to support such a policy.

In addition, 55 percent of landlords expressed support for smoke-free policies, citing reasons that included the value of creating a healthy environment, lowering maintenance costs and increasing their properties’ marketability. Landlords with policies already in place unanimously reported that the guidelines have had no negative effect on vacancy rates.

“Our findings send a strong message to property owners that renters want healthy, smoke-free homes,” said Ying-Ying Meng, the lead author of both studies and co-director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research’s Chronic Disease Program. “Tenants want clean air in their homes and common areas. Landlords recognize that it literally pays to be smoke free due to the extra expense and liability of permitting smoking.”

Secondhand smoke is dangerous at any level and can lead to heart disease, lung cancer, stroke and asthma. Children and the chronically ill are particularly vulnerable.

Thirty-seven percent of apartment tenants in the study reported smoke drifting into their home from another apartment or a common area. Households where a child, someone who is chronically ill or a person of color lives were even more likely to be exposed. But there is currently no ordinance in the city of Los Angeles that prohibits indoor smoking in apartments and condominiums, even in common areas where children frequently play.

Confusion about implementation
With such strong support for smoke-free policies, why aren’t more tenants covered? According to the study, a majority of landlords either have never thought about the issue or weren’t aware that they could implement a smoking policy. Many landlords also assume that the city alone is responsible for smoking regulations, when in fact property owners have the right to make decisions regarding smoking on their properties.

“Landlords understand how expensive it can be to have someone smoke in one of their units,” said Joe Patel, president of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, the city’s largest organization representing owners and managers. “It can cost up to $15,000 to renovate a smoker’s unit, not including the immense health costs of secondhand smoke and the potential for liability if a neighbor gets sick. Unfortunately, this reality has yet to translate into smoke-free policies due to a lack of awareness. Our new campaign is going to change that.”

Smokefree Apartments Los Angeles campaign
To help tenants breathe easier, the Center for Health Policy Research, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has partnered with the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles as well as CDTech, a nonprofit community development agency; FAME Corporations, a nonprofit that addresses social and economic inequalities in Los Angeles; SAFE, an advocacy group and registry of smoke-free apartments; the American Lung Association; the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and other organizations, to launch Smokefree Apartments Los Angeles.

The campaign will inform tenants about the risks of secondhand smoke and provide them with the tools they need to work with their landlords about voluntary smoke-free policies. The campaign will also offer assistance in implementing voluntary smoke-free policies for property owners and managers across the city.

Billboards, bus shelters, print ads, social media ads and direct mail will carry the message, “It’s time for all L.A. to breathe easy,” and include a link to the campaign’s website, www.smokefreeaptsla.org.

“We have an incredible opportunity to spark long overdue changes that will protect renters’ health and landlords’ bottom lines,” said Marlene Gomez, the campaign’s manager. “Together we’re going to ensure that all of L.A. can breathe easy in their own homes.”

Read the policy brief: Unequal Protection: Secondhand Smoke Threatens Health of Tenants in Multi-Unit Housing in Los Angeles

Read the fact sheet: Apartment Owers Support Nonsmoking Policies in Los Angeles

Smokefree Apartments Los Angeles is a community outreach program of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research that aims to increase access to smoke-free apartments in low-income neighborhoods within the city of Los Angeles. The program is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and executed in partnership with the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, CDTech, FAME and a coalition of public health partners, including ChangeLab Solutions, the American Lung Association, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Los Angeles Unified School District Student Health and Human Services, USC Tobacco Center for Regulatory Sciences in Vulnerable Populations and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.