Do you or someone you live with smoke? If you answered “no” to this question you already may know that smoking and secondhand smoke isn’t your problem, but research proves that other factors may still affect you.

According to “The Cost of Smoking in California” (1) a report released in October 2014, smoking costs Alameda County $702,063 per year, which works out to be a whopping $467 per every resident whether they smoke or not. The total number represents the amount of health care costs combined with lost productivity to smoking related illness and premature death.

Although the annual cost per resident may seem high at $467, the cost per smoker is nearly ten times that amount at an average of $4,920 per year. The report also attributes 8,874 deaths in Alameda County every year to smoking related illnesses, even though nearly 70% of residents have never smoked. The city of Berkeley has better rates, with a healthy 88.5% of residents over the age of eighteen reported as nonsmokers. (2)

Despite a general decline in smoking rates, California’s elderly, and people with asthma and other chronic illnesses, continue to be the most vulnerable to the 7,000 toxins found in secondhand tobacco smoke. These populations are the most likely to spend long periods of time at home where secondhand smoke exposure may be inescapable.

Up to 65% of the air in a multiunit home can be shared with neighboring units. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) “Healthy Homes Manual: Smoke-Free Policies in Multiunit Housing:” “The Surgeon General has concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Even brief exposures can cause serious nicotine health effects, especially for vulnerable populations. Secondhand smoke can worsen pre-existing conditions such as heart disease and respiratory problems. Because children breathe faster than adults, have smaller bodies and lungs, and are still developing, they are especially vulnerable to the health effects of secondhand smoke.” (3)

Furthermore, cigarettes are the leading cause of residential fire fatalities, causing 25% of all fire deaths in the United States. Seniors over 65 are at the greatest risk of dying due to problems with mobility. Before January of this year, Berkeley’s 11.5% population of smoking residents were entitled to pollute the air of their 88.5% counterparts in multiunit housing, but not anymore.

In Dec. 2013, the City of Berkeley adopted a smoke-free housing law with the most comprehensive enforcement standards in the state. While other cities have relied primarily on landlords and homeowner’s associations to be the “enforcers” of the laws, Berkeley has established a complaint process that has the city taking a greater role in ensuring compliance.

In September 2014, the City Council and Mayor Tom Bates voted unanimously to include the addition of e-cigarettes and other electronic smoking devices in all of the City’s secondhand smoke protection laws including multiunit housing. The City of Berkeley has proven to be a leader in protecting its residents from the health detriments connected to secondhand smoke exposure.

Berkeley is taking a proactive approach to these issues is the key to prevention. Residents of the city can take comfort in the fact that the smokefree housing ordinance is protecting the public’s health and wallets from smoking.

For further information and assistance please contact the City of Berkeley its their website, or contact the American Lung Association Bay Area Smokefree Housing Project at (510) 982-3192 or via email at

(1) The Cost of Smoking in California; Authors: Wendy Max, Hai-Yen Sung, Yanling Shi, Brad Stark; Institute for Health and Aging, School of Nursing University of California San Francisco. Research Supported by: Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, University of California Office of the President, Dr. Phillip Gardner Program Officer. (2) AskCHIS Neighborhood Edition is an online data dissemination and visualization platform that provides health estimates at sub-county geographic regions. With AskCHIS NE, you can access and visualize authoritative health data at zip code, city, county, and legislative district levels. (3) Healthy Homes Manual: Smoke-Free Policies in Multiunit Housing; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Environmental Health, Division of Emergency and Environmental Health Services, Healthy Home and Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch.

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Alexandra Nelson is Advocacy Manager for the American Lung Association in California.
Alexandra Nelson is Advocacy Manager for the American Lung Association in California.