Commentary: The de Blasio administration should study ways to require that all new or preserved units of affordable housing be smoke free

Monday, June 23, 2014, 2:00 AM

The presence of secondhand smoke significantly impacts the health and quality of life of those who are exposed to cigarette smoke

Last year, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio spoke of rising income inequality and handily won the hearts and minds of voters.

Now, Mayor de Blasio is moving forward on fulfilling a campaign pledge to create or preserve 200,000 additional affordable housing units for working families. Any effort to increase affordability in a city known for exorbitant rents is more than welcome considering the rapidly diminishing stock of affordable housing units available citywide.

Earlier this month the mayoral administration revealed plans to expand subsidized housing units over the next 10 years – a challenging, but certainly attainable, goal. As the mayor, subsequent agencies, developers and advocacy groups move forward with this effort, it will be imperative to remain aware of the environmental and economic sustainability of said units.

This is a unique opportunity for developers and policy makers to build sustainable, affordable ? and healthy, addressing a particularly toxic and pervasive substance: secondhand smoke.

Smoking is a public health issue and must be treated as such. Since the U.S. Surgeon General first published its report on tobacco in 1964, 20 million Americans have died from an illness attributed to smoking. Nearly 3 million of those were nonsmokers.

Today, smoking continues to be the largest cause of preventable disease and death nationwide. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development fully supported measures to create smoke-free dwellings in housing authorities nationwide on the basis of protecting public health.

It is a fact that in multi-unit dwellings, nonsmoking tenants are still exposed to the risk of secondhand smoke in spite of windows and increased ventilation. The presence of second and recently discovered third-hand smoke (nicotine compounds left on surfaces such as furniture, dust and walls long after the use of a cigarette indoors), significantly impacts the health and quality of life of those who are exposed to cigarette smoke.

New housing must protect working families from the dangers of second and third-hand smoke, particularly those most vulnerable: children and low-income residents.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined that there is no “safe” level of secondhand smoke and steps must be taken to limit its exposure.

Imagine living in a city where infants that are exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Children exposed to the toxins found in cigarette smoke face further detriment to their quality of life. They are more likely to develop ear and respiratory infections along with asthma-like symptoms that can have wider impacts on their ability to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

Bridging the chasm between “two cities” and addressing growing inequity must include an honest and open discussion on disparities in housing, health and standards of living.

As a city, we must acknowledge that these disparities begin in the early stages, and are likely to follow a child through the course of his or her life. The only way to protect nonsmokers from exposure to the toxins found in cigarettes within the confines of their homes is to create entirely smoke-free housing.

Considering the correlation between poor health and exposure to cigarette smoke, I strongly urge the de Blasio administration, as they study ways to meet their affordable housing goal, to require that all 200,000 of the newly created or preserved housing units be smoke-free.

Donovan Richards is a City Councilman from Queens who represents Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens and the eastern half of the Rockaway peninsula.

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