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Planning for multiunit smoke-free housing ordinance in Maui County

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The Maui, Molokai, Lāna’i Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai’i (Coalition) has decades of experience when it comes to policy change, but some policies still feel daunting to consider. One such policy is a smoke-free multiunit housing ordinance, especially since we would be the first county in the state to do so.

There is public support for such an ordinance, with 81 percent of Maui County residents polled in 2018 preferring to buy or rent housing that is smoke-free over a place that allows smoking, and 65 percent in support of a law to make all apartment buildings and condominiums smoke-free. However, even the discrepancy in those two numbers demonstrates the discomfort people have in regulating what someone can or cannot do in their own private home, even when it affects the quality of life of those around them. This opposition has been a concern to the Coalition in the past when considering moving forward on such a law. 

Enter Dylan Ellerbee, an expert in community-level change and policy advocacy. Dylan is a trainer for Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) and is the founder and Chair of the Board for the North Carolina Alcohol Policy Alliance. Dylan travels the country speaking and training on substance use and public health. He has held a policy action training for HIPHI’s own Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth recently and, with support from the County of Maui, he will be coming back to train our Coalition on the policy action steps using a smoke-free housing ordinance for Maui County as our case study. Thanks to Jaylen Murakami, Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator with the Hawai’i Public Health Institute, and Jill Tamashiro, Program Coordinator with the Department of Health Tobacco Prevention and Education Program, we also had smoke-free housing policy experts in the room to help handle specific details and questions that arose. 

By breaking the policy advocacy process down into 10 digestible chunks (e.g. creating a policy action statement, implementation, evaluation, etc.), the process and the opposition feels far less daunting. Through the training we have learned to slow down and take each step carefully so that we do things right the first time, making sure we have educated effectively and garnered the support needed. We also created 10 working committees to align with each step, accomplishing about a month’s worth of work in two days! 

It also became evident over the course of the training that a smoke-free multiunit housing ordinance is very much needed in Maui County. Secondhand smoke may affect up to 27,000 apartment or condominium units in our county, as smoke drift occurs through shared spaces such as hallways and stairwells, vents, and even outlets. Smoke damage and potential fires may end up costing the property owner thousands of dollars, if not more. The only way to effectively eliminate the negative consequences associated with smoking, which affects residents, visitors, staff, children, and pets, is to ban smoking altogether.

As the law stands currently, it is very difficult for a privately owned complex or association to go smoke-free, and property managers deal with smoking complaints frequently without a smoke-free policy in place. A countywide ordinance would give everyone a clear policy to follow, reducing negative health effects and complaints alike. The many benefits can be seen in public housing,  which is already smoke-free, and in other communities where ordinances already exist.

The Maui, Molokai, Lāna’i Coalition was unsure about taking on this challenge, but after such an eye-opening, rich training, we feel ready for anything. Whatever comes out of our upcoming 2020 planning meeting, we will certainly utilize the policy action steps taught by Dylan to help us organize our work and move forward in creating healthy change for Maui County.

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