Giving up tobacco is always a popular New Year's Resolution. We know smoking is harmful to our health so each year more and more smokers pledge to and successfully kick the habit. We know that second hand smoke can trigger asthma and allergic reactions in others and inhibit the healthy development of lungs in infants and young children. As a result, a number of tobacco users resolve not to smoke in the presence of children and those with health problems. Third hand smoke, a more recent and less known term, is the chemical residue that remains in upholstery, on surfaces, and a variety of porous materials after a cigarette is long gone. This is what we may sense when climbing into the car of, visiting the home of, or hugging someone who smokes. Like secondhand smoke, third hand smoke has been associated with the onset of asthmatic symptoms, allergic reactions, and other physical responses in humans and in pets. This year, maybe third hand smoke deserves a resolution of its own.
For years the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) has worked to reduce tobacco exposure rates in the state. Currently, one major focus is on multi-unit housing, i.e., apartments and condominiums, where air containing second and third hand smoke can unintentionally be shared by neighbors. This can happen when residents share enclosed hallways; ventilation and duct systems; cracks in walls, ceilings and floors between apartments; and shared laundry rooms, playgrounds and swimming pool areas. Apartments previously occupied by an indoor smoker generally have strong odors and often have nicotine discoloration on walls, floors and window treatments that require significant cleaning and/or replacement before a new tenant can comfortably move in. Some estimates suggest "flipping" the apartment of a smoker costs three times as much as that of a non-smoker due to extensive cleaning and property replacement that is sometimes necessary and apartment vacancy periods between renters to accommodate such clean up.
Apartment communities with policies that restrict the use of tobacco in any indoor space, including individual apartments, are gaining in popularity. Not only do such policies improve air quality for all residents and keep maintenance costs down, they also reduce the risk of fire and injury due to fire.
According to the U. S. Fire Administration, almost 1,000 smokers and non-smokers, many of which are children and neighbors, are killed in home fires caused by cigarettes and other smoking materials each year in the United States. Apartment communities that cater to older residents find tobacco-free policies particularly appealing because of the increased challenges seniors might have in exiting a building in the event of fire.
With the new year just around the corner, this is the perfect time to start thinking about tobacco use in your home. Free resources are available to assist apartment owners, managers and tenants in creating or enhancing tobacco policies in their communities and informational brochures, educational tools and free quitting programs are available to all Hernando County residents throughout the year.
For information, visit www.TobaccoFreeFlorida.com or call the Department of Health in Hernando County, 352-540-6817.
Ann-Gayl Ellis is the Health Education Program Consultant for the Florida Department of Health in Hernando County.