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Health Department and Rental Community Advocate for Smoke-Free Housing

January 10, 2012

Partnering with the rental community, smoke-free housing provides health benefits to residents and landlords alike

TACOMA, Wash. -- The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department today launched an initiative to promote smoke-free housing in Pierce County. Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States[i]. Over 80% of Pierce County residents do not smoke[ii] and significant advances have been made in recent years to protect people from secondhand smoke in public places. A 2007 survey indicated that 86% of renters in Washington prefer to live in smoke-free housing[iii]. Making more smoke-free rental housing available gives residents more choices for healthy homes and is the next logical step to make an impact for the health of the community.

“Everyone deserves the chance for a healthy life, including living in a smoke-free home,” said Dr. Anthony L-T Chen, Director of Health, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “Our smoke-free housing initiative, developed in collaboration with the rental community in Pierce County, will help residents experience a healthy home free from the health and physical threats of secondhand smoke.”

The Health Department has convened the Smoke-Free Housing Task Force, a group made up of local rental property managers and business people who care about smoke-free housing.  To help potential tenants choose a smoke-free housing option, the Department launched a smoke-free housing registry and awards program. Rental property managers can apply for an award that verifies the property’s smoke-free policies. Gold, silver and bronze awards will be given to properties that can verify their smoke-free policies. Award recipients will be added to a registry kept by the Health Department Renters are encouraged to refer to the registry when looking for units to rent.

“A smoke-free policy is not just good for renters’ health, but it is good for business,” said John Ruze, Proprietor, Truaire Apartments in Lakewood, and member of the Smoke-Free Housing Task Force. “More and more renters are demanding smoke-free housing, so verifying our properties helps meet that demand. In addition, the cleanup costs on a smoke-free unit are at least half of those where smokers lived. It’s a win-win for the rental community.”

The Health Department, in collaboration with the Smoke-Free Housing Task Force, has published a toolkit for landlords that wish to go smoke-free. Suggested policies are available, along with resources to convert to smoke-free properties.  Health Department staff is also available for technical assistance to any property in Pierce County that wants to make the switch to smoke-free.

Facts about Smoke-Free Housing

  • Smoking is a leading cause of residential fire and the number one cause of fire deaths in the United States[iv].
  • There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke and the EPA has identified secondhand smoke as a Class A carcinogen, the most toxic class of chemicals that are known to cause cancer in humans.[v]
  • Secondhand smoke is a leading trigger of asthma attacks and other respiratory problems and a known cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).[vi]
  • Secondhand smoke is classified as a “toxic air contaminant,” putting it in the same class of other contaminants including asbestos, lead, vehicle exhaust, and a host of other chemicals strictly regulated in the U.S.[vii]
  • Ventilation systems do not protect families from secondhand smoke. Most air filter systems are designed to remove odors, not the toxic particles from tobacco smoke.[viii]
  • Research demonstrates that up to 65% of air can be exchanged between units and that smoke travels through tiny cracks, crevices and chasing, involuntarily exposing individuals in adjacent units.[ix]
  • Apartment cleanup costs can be two to seven times greater when smoking is allowed, compared to the cost of maintaining and turning over a smoke-free unit.[x]
  • Some insurance companies offer discounts on property casualty insurance for multi-unit owners with a 100% smoke-free policy.
  • Several statewide surveys demonstrate that as many as 78% of tenants, including smokers, would choose to live in a smoke-free complex.[xi]

About the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to safeguard and enhance the health of the communities of Pierce County.  As part of its mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health. Learn more at


[i] “Secondhand Smoke:  The Science.” Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, November 2006.

[ii] “Pierce County Tobacco Use Statistics.” Washington State Department of Health, March 2011.

[iii] "Healthy Community Environment Survey” WA State Dept of Health, 2007.

[iv] “Home Structure Fires”, Marty Ahrens, National Fire Protection Association, May 2011.

[v] United States, Office of the Surgeon General. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke. (Atlanta, GA: Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.)

[vi] United States, Office of the Surgeon General. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke. (Atlanta, GA: Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.)

[vii] California Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental Tobacco Smoke: A Toxic Air Contaminant. (Sacramento, CA: California Air Resource Board, 2006.)

[viii] American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Environmental Tobacco Smoke Position Document. (Atlanta: June 30, 2005.)

[ix] Center for Energy and Environment. Reduction of Environmental Tobacco Smoke Transfer in Minnesota Multifamily Buildings Using Air Sealing and Ventilation Treatments. (Minneapolis, MN: 2004.)

[x] Smoke-Free Housing New England, 2009.

[xi] 2Smoke-Free Housing Coalition of Maine. 2004-2006 Surveys. (Portland, ME: 2007.); Washington State Department of Health, Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. 2003 Tenant Surveys. (Olympia, WA: 2003.); Oregon Smoke Free Housing Project, 2006 Market Surveys. American Lung Association of Oregon. (Tigard, OR: 2006.)

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