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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Smoke-free housing for low-income, mentally ill

Tobacco Prevention Program Newsletter, Summer 2011
By Michael Leon-Guerrero

Smoke-free housing for low-income, mentally ill

In King County, 77 percent of renters prefer smoke-free housing -- including over half of people who smoke -- yet only 35 percent of renters live in buildings with no-smoking policies. Folks limited to low-income housing have even fewer smoke-free housing options.

In an effort to prevent the disparity from growing, part of the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant has focused specifically on smoke free housing. Karen Brawley, Housing and Cities manager, is working with nine housing organizations including Seattle Housing Authority, King County Housing Authority and Housing Resources Group in an effort to gain 9,000 smoke-free units this year.

"Smoke-free housing is a perfect example of how a person's environment affects their health," Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health -- Seattle & King County, said in a release. "More of our low-income population lives in multiunit housing, which means that they are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke. Our efforts facilitate changes like this -- changes that will increase access to healthy environments in every King County neighborhood."


Residents living with mental illness are often not only limited to low-income housing, but also the stigma that people with mental illness can't quit, won't quit or even shouldn't quit smoking. Recent studies prove that mentally ill residents want to quit and can quit successfully.

A CPPW training "Exploring smoke-free housing and mental health and recovery" was a well attended event that fostered conversations, opened communication and addressed some real concerns regarding smoke-free policies in affordable housing environments.

A panel of housing staff with smoke-free policy experience allowed participants to talk with others about the transition to smoke-free properties.

The event itself was described as "Great great GREAT!" and "Great and challenging; but the bottom line is wanting to help clients." The biggest need identified across the board was increased cessation support, including medication.

Karen Brawley, Housing and Cities manager for the Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant, is the project lead for smoke-free housing.