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Secondhand smoke exposure in multiunit housing intensified during COVID-19 shut down

Exposure to secondhand smoke is dangerous, and there is no safe level of exposure. For people with underlying health conditions, exposure to secondhand smoke can even be life-threatening. So for non-smokers who live in multiunit housing complexes where secondhand smoke drifts from designated smoking areas, privately-owned lanai, or even through vents from other units, it can be a serious health issue. 

Now enter the COVID-19 pandemic. While stay-at-home mandates were part of a statewide effort to protect our communities and our healthcare system, for those who live in multiunit housing complexes where secondhand smoke exposure is an issue, the time spent home posed an entirely different health concern. 

The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaiʻi and the Department of Health both noted an increase in smoking-related complaint calls from Maui County residents in multiunit housing during this time. These calls came from people who were frustrated that they were abiding by the law and doing their best to keep themselves and their families healthy and safe by staying home, yet they were subjected to secondhand smoke exposure against their will. 

Smoke-free properties are the only way to ensure that residents are not exposed to secondhand smoke, they also help to protect property and property value, and tend to attract more potential renters or buyers as the vast majority of our population consists of non-smokers.

While there are processes that a complex can follow to adopt smoke-free property policies, and many are starting to do so, they are often long and rather difficult. Over two-thirds of the unit owners must respond and vote in favor of going smoke-free for a policy to be adopted. With so many of our Maui County condo owners living on the mainland or out of the country, the response rate is often too low to pass these protections and the associations give up.

The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaiʻi believes that all residents in multiunit housing complexes deserve to live in a healthy environment free of secondhand smoke, and that it should be easier to adopt and implement smoke-free policies. To that end, we have formed a workgroup for Maui County to begin assessing community readiness to move toward smoke-free multiunit housing. We hope to collect data that will help us to better understand the experiences and challenges of residents and property managers across the County relating to secondhand smoke issues, and to support education and local efforts to move in a smoke-free direction.

If you live in a multi unit housing complex and are affected by secondhand smoke, you may call the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health at (808) 586-4613 to report observed violations of smoke-free air laws and/or learn more about how your complex can go smoke-free.

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