How we are going smoke-free OP-ED

By Abraham Palma
Social Worker, YM & YWHA
Wednesday, April 11, 2012, Manhattan Times

The Wien House is a 100 unit apartment building for low income older adults.

The Y is a community center that offers recreational, educational and social services for people of all ages. In June of this year, the Wien House will be going smoke-free.
This housing policy will protect residents and their family members from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.

This is an amazing accomplishment not only for the tenants living in this building, but also for the entire community of Washington Heights and Inwood. Every community wants to be perceived in a positive way. Smoke-free living spaces deter folks from smoking and changes social norms. We are making historic progress against our biggest killer (tobacco.)

The Wien House will become the first New York HUD funded housing going 100% smoke-free. We hope that this effort will inspire replication by others.

The benefits of smoke-free housing are many. It can protect tenants from secondhand smoke. It can also increase awareness about the deadly and costly impact of smoking. Also a non-smoking residential policy can reduce the cost of physical property damage. In addition, a smoke-free policy is legal and encouraged by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to the studies, 7,200 New Yorkers die annually from a smoking-related illness every year. Secondhand smoke in multi-unit dwellings cannot be contained. Cleaning the air and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate the health hazards of second-hand smoke exposure. Studies also show that 66 percent of New Yorkers are interested in living in an apartment that prohibits smoking entirely.

We believe that every person deserves the right to breathe fresh air. With this policy we will protect not only our tenants, but also those visiting this building.
And we continue to work with our younger residents as well.

On March 8th, the Surgeon General Report released a report entitled “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults”. For many of us who advocate against tobacco marketing to youth, it was no surprise to read such statements: “Tobacco companies are spending more than $1 million an hour across the country to market and encourage underage youth to smoke”.

Tobacco companies spend billions each year to market their products in convenience stores, grocery stores and pharmacies, and one of the places where tobacco products are heavily marketed is in our local stores.

This is a significant problem that affects our youth as research shows that the more tobacco marketing they see the more youth is likely to smoke.

Also 75 percent of teens shop at least once a week in convenience stores.

The release of the Surgeon Report is very timely as March 21st marked the Seventeenth Annual Kick Butts Day. Kick Butts Day is a national celebration of youth leadership and engagement in the fight against Big Tobacco.

In order to protect the next generation of non-smokers, we need to educate our community that tobacco marketing in stores targets youth and it is dangerous.

Locally, the YM & YWHA is proud to lead the way against such marketing.
The youths from the Y Teen Leadership Program distributed and collected signatures from other youth in order to educate and raise tobacco awareness. There also were meetings with other community-based organizations that work with youth which agreed with and supported our tobacco initiative.

According the studies, less than 17 percent of Inwood and Washington Heights residents currently smoke.

Also 8 in 10 smokers in Inwood and Washington heights are trying to kick the habit.
And there’s still work that needs to be done.

We continue to work with the Manhattan Smoke Free Partnership to reach residents in Washington Heights/Inwood community and educate them on the dangers of smoking which is the #1 preventable cause of death.

Join us in our continuing efforts to help Washington Heights and Inwood go smoke free.

The Surgeon General’s report is available at and

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