Instilling a Fervent Wish for Smoke-free Housing - Part VIII
Oscar weekend, Feb 26, will also see the new Liberal leader and Premier of BC.
At the onset of the smoke-free housing initiative, political and health professionals thought that society simply wasn't ready for smoke-free, much less smoke-free housing, much less smoke-free housing legislation.
A radical idea whose time had clearly come, MLA's knew the "bold step" of smoke-free housing would be inflammatory. The scope of the problem had not filtered down into the population. The idea needed time to disseminate and distill, be reflected on.
Societal norms must change significantly, to the point where voters understand and agree with what government initiatives are doing. California's educational platform to become smoke-free serves as a standard, and it took five years of work to reach policy development.
How will BC's new government follow through with the smoke-free housing initiative?
More importantly, will voters provide the government with support to proceed, or will voters continue to hold a "political suicide" component attached to smoke-free housing over the myth of "right-to-smoke, in-my-home?"
If you were part of the government representatives responsible for tobacco control, and knew what they know, what would you decide? What piece of information would tip your decision-making towards legislation?
BC's Healthy Living Alliance recommends that the next stage for smoke-free housing involve the
Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Public Safety, and Solicitor General, working with BC Housing and the private sector to expand smoke-free housing (Jan 2011), through legislation by amending the Residential Tenancy Act to include second-hand smoke as an example of a breach to a tenant’s “right to quiet enjoyment.”
To make a radical and bold decision - essentially a shift, a conversion, investigation and history shows some compelling body of knowledge points to taking such a step. 'An idea whose time has come' emerges out of economic, social, and likely legal problems of crippling, even catastrophic proportions.
Tobacco tax brings in approximately $750 million per year, measured against BC Lung Association's cessation programs at $1.6 million. Smoking-related diseases of the circulatory and respiratory systems, and cancers, cost approximately $2.3 billion every year. Passive smoke alone kills 140 people in B.C. The economic and health factor analysis presents a bleak house.
One half-century of concerted and concentrated health knowledge across disciplines documents the health hazards of tobacco, of passive or second-hand smoking, and that no-safe level exists for drifting second-hand smoke.
To-date, no ventilation system has been invented or innovated to reduce or eliminate second-hand smoke, and the vested interests for profit are staggering. Tobacco corporations have not been able to invent a ventilation system, nor have engineers in the field of air-quality, heating, refrigeration, and air-condition (ASHRAE).
Big Tobacco, the likes of P. Lorillard (1760), J.E. Liggett and Brother (1849), Phillip Morris (1847), R.J. Reynolds (1875), and Imperial Tobacco (1901) reveled in an illustrious life span despite manufacturing a noxious commodity. They are among the oldest of corporations, the longevity of which is not shared by their consumers.
The health hazards of tobacco pre-date the selling of tobacco (1600). Long known for renouncing
the killer disabling and addictive qualities, Big Tobacco no longer would even consider making such claims. Today, their lawyers focus on being able to reduce their liability by presenting a defense of "shared responsibility" against the federal and provincial governments suing them for economic recovery of health costs. Big Tobacco's defense of shared responsibility speaks to governments' complicity about the hazards of smoking, marketing, and governments 'didn't do more sooner.'
Non-smokers (never and quitters) now make up approximately 85% of the population, with higher percentages of smokers living in the interior and northern part of BC. Because of the difference in the size of the population in each Health Authority, the Health Authority with the highest smoking rate (Northern) has the smallest number of smokers (57,112) while the Health Authority with the lowest smoking rate (Vancouver Coastal) has the second-largest number of smokers (113,423). (BC Tobacco Attitudes and Behaviours Survey Report 2009:9)
The idea of smoke-free housing exists because it is one of the last spaces with concentrated levels of second-hand smoke, one where the next generation is likely to be socialized into smoking before 16 years of age, and as young as 9. The other space is schools. Tobacco reduction spotlights both spaces.
"Home" is most likely to be a multi-resident dwelling (MRD's). In BC, 48% of total dwellings are MRDs. A city-by-city Community Profile from Stats Canada (2006) of MRDs shows a very precise story.
Vancouver, 80.7% of homes are MRDs. 21.7% consist of semi, row, duplex; 59% apartments. 52% are rented, 48% owned.
Surrey, 54.9% of homes are MRDs. 31.8% consist of semi, row, duplex; 23.1% apartments. 25% are rented; 75% owned.
White Rock, 70.9% of homes are MRDs. 17.9% consist of semi, row, duplex; 53% apartments. 34% are rented; 66% owned.
New West, 81.2% of homes are MRDs. 15.1% consist of semi, row, duplex; 66.1% apartments. 46% are rented; 54% owned.
Burnaby, 72.2% of homes are MRDs. 26.5% consist of semi, row, duplex; 45.7% apartments. 39% are rented; 61% owned.
North Vancouver, 83.8% of homes are MRDs. 22.5% consist of semi, row, duplex; 61.3% apartments. 46% are rented; 54% owned.
Victoria, 83.8% of homes are MRDs. 16.6% consist of semi, row, duplex; 67.2% apartments. 60% are rented; 40% owned.
Langley, 73.4% of homes are MRDs. 18.7% consist of semi, row, duplex; 54.7% apartments. 39% are rented; 61% owned.
What population and housing density looks like in a photo (by Stephen Downes).
Links to Charts illustrating Community Profiles by Type of MRD's and by Owners/Renters from Stats Canada 2006.
The next factor in the analysis comes from smoking prevalence by age (2008): 11% of smokers are 15-19 years of age; 18% are 20-24; 17% are 25-44; 17% are 45-64; and 9% are 65+. Those most at risk of beginning smoking, and with the highest rates of quitting exist in the 15-29 age range.Few people know that smoke-free housing targeted smokers 19-29 years of age, the age group most at risk, with the highest smoking prevalence rate in the province, with a majority living in high density buildings. Within this age group, new families exist: with babies, toddlers, and young children.
While this group largely rejected the notion of smoke-free housing, in the "retired" and "disabled" community the idea caught fire. Here, non-smokers thought they were finally able to do something legitimately about drifting second-hand smoke. Here, people spend most of their day at home as opposed to work, and for some most of their day exposed to more second-hand smoke than every before in their lives.
In the retired and disabled community, three groups of smokers come together through forced integration. The 65+ seniors' population has the lowest smoking rates across health authorities, 7-10%. The 55-64 and 25+ have the highest rates of smoking at 17%. Factor in disability, and housing integration with seniors, smokers with the highest rates are integrated with seniors who have the lowest rates.
While people who have quit smoking make up the largest proportion of the retired community, within that community exists the largest proportion of "persistent," "uncompromising," "chronic smokers," who believe the myth about a "right-to-smoke-in-their-own-home." Knowing this, the government wasn't going to
Now consider the voluntary approach attached to smoke-free housing. It operated under several premises. First, if you provide the legal opinions and case law decisions outlining that smoke-free housing is legal, and that landlords/owners have the authority to make policy changes, along with the policy wordings, landlords/owners will implement smoke-free housing. Documents were also provided detailing the process and procedure, and websites housed the documents for easy access, and as marketing.
A second premise states that people support smoking bans when it protects children, and prevents children from starting to smoke.
A third premise invokes the responsibility/ownership principle, that landlords/owners implementing voluntarily smoke-free policies have a vested stakeholder interest, one that elicits community connection, commitment and pride. They also benefit financially, and avoid claims for breach of quiet enjoyment.
A fourth premise relates to time, and finances. The time and money spent on organizing and educating for legislative change, measured against time and money connecting to landlords and owners through associations, and convincing them to implement voluntarily because it is legal, they have the authority, and the vested interests.
The voluntary approach to smoke-free housing achieved some limited successes, their stories made the news, and failed to achieve its targeted goals for a great number of reasons. In the few evaluation reports available on various national smoke-free housing programs, the myth of "right-to- smoke" and "in-my-own-home" rules. This myth shows up internationally in research reports measuring if the rule exists where someone in the home has diseases such as COPD.
This "right-to-smoke," and "in-my-own-home" myth is the nicotine residue etched in gray matter left behind by marketing milestones of Big Tobacco. If only the tobacco reduction media campaigns were similarly embedded.
One of the outcomes of the volunteer approach shows up in the Residential Tenancy Act Claims, Human Rights Complaints, and Nuisance Cases filed by tenants, owners, and landlords. With the voluntary approach not working as a proactive approach, litigation acts as the incentive, the attention getter, and the route for enforcement.
The courts at all levels have not yet been inundated with cases claiming drifting second-hand smoke breaches the covenant for quiet enjoyment. Awareness of this venue needs to happen, as does improved access and less financial constraints. Landlords and renters need to learn about effective presentation of evidence, meeting the standards for evidence, and timeliness of issue complaints, and trial process. Case law exists, and the decisions prove to be on point, and the process more effective and efficient.
Litigation pressures from Big Tobacco against governments around shared responsibility, also applies at the level of the individual against landlords and owners, as well as BC Housing. They know, and need to do more sooner. Litigation pressures from tenants and landlords act as support for recommending the Residential Tenancy Act be amended to read "second-hand smoke exists as a breach to quiet enjoyment."
If governments don't amend through legislation, landlords and tenants will remain caught in a Gordian Knot. Report complaints of drifting second-hand smoke, request smoke-free housing, file complaints with the Residential Tenancy Branch and under Nuisance for breach of quiet enjoyment. Or move. Or suffer silenced.
If you support this second initiative of smoke-free housing, calling for legislative amendments to the Residential Tenancy Act, contact BC's Healthy Living Alliance. Mary Collins firstname.lastname@example.org; 604-629-1630