LA Campaign Seeks Smokeless Apartment Buildings

In her mid-city Los Angeles apartment, one of three units in an older home, Carolina Lopez has suffered ill effects from second-hand smoke for more than a year.

“My neighbor smokes inside her apartment and on the balcony, one cigarette after another,” Lopez said. “I’m allergic and my body reacts with severe nausea and a headache. When I complained to the owner, the neighbor threatened me.”

On Wednesday, a major new community outreach campaign was announced in Los Angeles that Lopez hopes will help.

Called Smokefree Apartments Los Angeles, with the tag line, “It’s time for all LA to breathe easy,” the new initiative provides tools for tenants of private, multi-unit rental buildings to start a dialogue with landlords about voluntary smoke-free policies. Property owners and managers can access resources to implement their own policies.

At the same time, two new surveys from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research were also announced. One showed that more than 80 percent of LA apartment residents support smoke-free policies in their buildings.

Perhaps more surprising, the second survey found that 55 percent of apartment owners who did not have smoke-free policies at their own properties supported the idea of going smoke free — although no laws in LA require it.

It is, however, legal for landlords to set smoke-free rules.

Some of those surveyed cited more good reasons to ban smoking, including an additional average cost of $5,000 to “turn over” a smoking unit to non-smoking. Going smoke-free also reduces the likelihood of legal claims from sick or harmed tenants and helps reduce fire risk, which in turn lowers insurance premiums.

At smoke-free Lucky 24 Apartments in the West Hills/Canoga Park area, co-property manager Basim Mazzal said he frequently rejects lease applications from smokers.

“You can’t smoke on the premises, and not even in the courtyard,” he said.

The study reported that smoke-free policies didn’t lift vacancy rates.

The new tenant/landlord campaign kicked off at already smoke-free FAME Gardens Apartment Complex in South Los Angeles.

The smoke-free outreach initiative draws funding from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with several community groups and the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles as partners.

“The takeaway is that both tenants and landlords support smoke-free housing and now we can point them to resources,” said Peggy Toy, director of the UCLA center’s Health Data Program and a co-author of the studies.

The campaign comes on the heels of an especially active anti-tobacco session of the state legislature. Six tobacco bills are headed for Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that include upping the legal age to purchase from 18 to 21 and imposing the same regulations on e-cigarettes as on regular tobacco products.

A petition drive is also underway for the November ballot to raise the cigarette tax by $2 per pack.

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