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Roseville group aims for smoke-free apartments

Local mom says living near smoker caused her children to suffer ear infections
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Some smokers may feel like the home is the last sanctuary where they can smoke in peace.

But what happens when that home shares walls or a ventilation system with the home of someone else?

A local group called Kids Involuntarily Inhaling Secondhand Smoke, or KIISS, is on a mission to encourage apartment owners in Roseville to offer smoke-free buildings.

They’re not asking for a complete ban on cigarette smoking in apartments — at least, not yet. For now, they want landlords to set aside buildings specifically for non-smokers.

“(Currently), the onus is really on the person offended,” said President Paul McIntyre. “If someone blasts music too loud it shouldn’t be, ‘Well, I’ll move.’ It should be, ‘Turn down the music.’”

The same policy should refer to smokers, he said, because inhaling secondhand smoke has proven health consequences.

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.

The California Air Resources Board has identified secondhand smoke as an airborne toxic substance that may cause or contribute to serious illness or death.

McIntyre has solicited the help of Devon Kelley, 31, in his campaign. The mother of three lives in an apartment complex in Roseville. In 2008, a chain smoker moved into the unit below her apartment.

“My whole life I’ve never been around cigarette smoke,” Kelley said. “It’s always been disgusting to me.”

She complained to management but she says they brushed her off and explained there’s nothing they can do.

‘Right to breathe clean air’

In 1985, McIntyre was working as a public relations adviser for the California Restaurant Association, which was fighting the smoking ban in restaurants. His association felt that decision should be left up to each dining establishment.

Then, in 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated tobacco smoke as a human (class A) carcinogen, which means the substance causes cancer in people. So, the restaurant association switched gears and became the first in the United States to support a smoking ban.

California now prohibits smoking in all workplaces and bars, and has the second-lowest smoking rate in the nation, behind Utah.

“When we were done, it was so controversial, I never wanted to touch tobacco again,” McIntyre said.

But he subsequently heard overwhelming support for the ban.

McIntyre formed Roseville-based KIISS in 2000 and started the voluntary smoke-free homes and cars campaign to limit children’s exposure to secondhand smoke. He recently directed his focus to smoke-free apartments, following the lead of other cities such as Richmond and Larkspur.

“We don’t want to come across as smoker haters,” McIntyre said. “We just want non-smokers to be able to raise their kids in a smoke-free environment.”

As for Kelley, she spoke to her neighbor about the smoke, but that led to arguments between the two.

“She said, ‘It’s a free country, I have a right to smoke.’ Well, I have the right to breathe clean air and you’re making that impossible,” Kelley said.

Meanwhile, her kids had constant ear infections, said Kelley, who is in school to become a registered nurse. Kids exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections, acute respiratory infections, and more frequent and severe asthma attacks, according to the National Health Institute.

Kelley felt stuck: She couldn’t afford to break her contract and move, but she also couldn’t continue putting up with the smoke.

“We can avoid casinos,” she said. “I can’t avoid our apartment.”

Smoke-free sections

A year after Kelley’s troubles began, the landlord agreed to move her to another building on the property without charging for the cost of a security deposit, application fee or for any damages to the previous unit.

McIntyre’s group is encouraging owners to make it easier for tenants to break their lease should they have an issue with a smoking neighbor.

The city of Larkspur has banned residents in condominiums and apartment units from lighting up. Richmond passed an ordinance that went into effect Jan. 1, 2011, and requires all multi-unit residences with two or more units be non-smoking. This includes private outdoor spaces, such as balconies, patios and decks.

McIntyre said the first step is asking owners to separate some buildings as smoke-free and then let market demand increase the number of these units.

The Carmel at Woodcreek West apartment complex on Junction Boulevard in Roseville offers eight buildings smoke-free out of 37 on the property — that amounts to 48 apartments out of 222. They instituted the first non-smoking units in 2003 and have added more each year, said Randall Lewis, executive vice president of Lewis Apartment Communities.

“Certain people find it a strong benefit and some people are against it,” Lewis said. “The majority are in the middle — it’s nice but it’s not mandatory.”

He said his company promotes healthy communities as a core value.

“We do it because it’s good business, but also because it’s the right thing to do,” Lewis said.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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Secondhand smoke
• Kills about the same number of Americans each year as murder, drugs and AIDS combined
• Kids exposed regularly can inhale the equivalent of 102 packs of cigarettes by age 5
• Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals and 69 are known to cause cancer.
• Gases in secondhand smoke include ammonia (used in household cleaners), methanol (used in rocket fuel) and formaldehyde (preserver of body tissue)
• Metals in secondhand smoke include arsenic (used in pesticides), lead (now banned from paint) and chromium (used to make steel)
• Kids exposed have an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections, acute respiratory infections, and more frequent and severe asthma attacks
• The economic burden of tobacco use is more than $96 million a year in medical costs

Source: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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For more information about the effort to create smoke-free apartments in Roseville, visit www.kiiss.org.