Smoking outside in high-risk neighborhoods

Hi, what advice do you have to address the issues below?

  • Public housing resident feelings that there are other more pressing issues in their buildings that need attention besides smoking in units, such as maintenance issues that have been ignored, bed bug problems, etc.
  • Resident fear of being outside in dangerous neighborhoods while smoking (many of our public housing properties are located in areas of high concentration of shootings and other violent crimes)
  • Public housing residents feeling a sense of hopelessness because they do not have the money to live in a market-rate building; they feel that because they are in public housing, they are being forced to follow strict rules that residents in market-rate buildings do not experience


Excellent questions:

1)  Validating resident concerns, and emphasizing that a smoke-free policy means a healthier, safer, cleaner place to live for everyone is important.  They may be other important issues to deal with too, but a smoke-free policy is tangible step that many apartment buildings in the community, and across the country, are making to make living environments healthier, safer, and cleaner.  Emphasizing the positive impact to kids, pets, and families is helpful too.

2) Validating resident concerns, and providing opportunities for them to provide feedback and help brainstorm solutions is very important.  Some properties I've worked with have worked with a local crime prevention officer through the police department to walk the grounds to improve safety, started a "buddy system" program that smokers can utilize, made safety improvements outside like increasing light and visibility, etc.  We have also found it helpful to educate smoking residents (who aren't ready to quit) about strategies to help them "get through the night" if they have a nicotine craving and don't feel safe going outside.  For example, educating residents about smoke-free FDA approved devices (like an inhaler or patch) they can use when having a craving and don't feel comfortable going outside.  

3)  I frequently lead resident meetings in apartment buildings to "make the case" for why smoke-free policies benefits residents (healthier, cleaner, safer buildings and cost savings that trickle down to residents).  I also emphasize the quickly changing landscape of smoke-free housing, and how everyone should have the freedom to choose a healthy place to live, but not everyone can due to where they live.  Framing it as a increasing an opportunity, rather than taking something away, is often helpful.

Good Afternoon:  I would acknowledge their concerns, indicate the need to address a other issues but indicate todays forum is about one specific topic ...smoking cessation.  If you are the manager you can commit to meet to address other topics but indicate this is a starting point.

Encouage those who are concerned about crime to smoke when they are outside for reasons other than smoking.  This is also an opportunity to talk about cessation of smoking because of all the reasons already discussed.


Education is the key to this program working. Facts and information can change the  Hopelessness conversation to an empowerment conversation.  Encourage residents to look at a smoke free building as an empowered housing option not a force fed option.  Their input on the rules and implementation can help.  Data is available which documents smoke free buildings is the way of the future and an option for those with money.

One of the best examples was how outside designated smoking areas were managed by the Lansing Housing Commission.  The LHC Board passed the smoke-free policy, but gave authority to determine the designated outside smoking location to each property manager with input from tenants.  This was a wonderful solution.  I usually recommend that the outside smoking area be near a lesser-used parking lot with private key entrance into the building.  That is a huge generalization, but tenant input allows those that smoke, to come into the building from their vehicles and enter into the building using a secured entrance.  Those that do not have a car or do not drive, usually smoke near bus stations or near sidewalks before the approach to the entrance door.

It has been my experience that pubic housing tenants can attend Housing Commission Board Meetings and recieve updates on pest management and maintenance issues.  It is also important for tenants to understand what forms are necessary to make a maintenance repair request.  Over and over, I hear from tenants that have verbally complained, but are not aware of the 'form" or do not know the proper process to get concernes addressed.  I do not mean to downplay the serious pest management concers or safety concerns.  Smokers that I support will suffer with withdrawl symptoms rather than put themselves in a dangerous situation.

Nationally and in my community, there is more smoke-free market rate housing than subsidized housing.  Most housing that is market rate in my community maintains a smoke-free property policy.  In my opinion, the poor, those with poor housing, and those most in need are those most needing safe (smoke-free) housing.  It is the loving thing to do, to provide safe and smoke-free hosuing to those with the least resources.