Smoke-free restaurants, smoke-free taxis and smoke-free playgrounds have been in the news for as long as we can remember. However, smoke-free multi-unit housing (SFMUH) is an issue that caught our attention after joining the Youth Health Action Network (YHAN), a youth engagement initiative that works to raise awareness and advocate for healthy public policy.
You may be thinking, what is the need for SFMUH if smoking is restricted in the common areas (hallways, elevators, etc.) of apartment buildings and condos? Smoke can travel from one housing unit to another through cracks, openings and electrical outlets, and therefore pollute the air shared by numerous residents. Moreover, you may be unknowingly exposed to third-hand smoke if smoke seeps into your residence from a neighbouring unit, or if the previous residents of the unit were smokers. Third-hand smoke is tobacco smoke that is left behind on objects and surfaces and has the ability to combine with indoor pollutants to make new toxic compounds that linger.
So, what can be done about this?
YHAN has enabled youth like us from across the city of Toronto to come together, with the support of Toronto Public Health staff, to raise awareness about the benefits of SFMUH. As youth advocates, we aim to educate vulnerable populations by creating and disseminating educational resources about what they can do to prevent, reduce and stop second and third-hand smoke exposure. Our aim is not to deny smokers a place to live or force them to quit. The goal of SFMUH is to increase access to multi-unit housing that has clean, smoke-free indoor air.
We recently interviewed young adults from Toronto about their opinions on SFMUH. The results not only provided us a means of gauging the public’s awareness on this issue, but also helped us identify any misconceptions surrounding this topic. As YHAN members, we recognize the value of social media as a platform to reach large audiences and we are developing an online toolkit with information about what tenants and landlords can do to make multi-unit housing smoke-free. We are positive that our youth-driven SFMUH campaign will be influential in starting a dialogue and will help policymakers understand the need to address this issue now. By helping to inform the public about what they can do to limit their exposure to second and third-hand smoke in their homes, we hope that we will be able to help everyone who is affected by this issue.
As part of our collaboration with INKspire, they have helped us designed some of our posters to raise awareness about SFMUH:
If you would like to learn more information about this issue, please visit: smokefreehousingon.ca
This article was written by Sandra D’Souza and Benish Syed.