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Why Oakland needs a multi-unit smoke free housing policy

April 29, 2017

by Marlene Christine Hurd

To educate our entire Oakland community, I’m writing to explain why Oakland needs a smoke-free multi-unit housing policy. This is a social justice issue.

Smoking and tobacco products kill more African-Americans than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drug use, homicide, suicide and other non-tobacco related cancers. We must educate our youth and communities regarding the dangers of smoking because it is an unhealthy life choice for them.

On Dec. 5, 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published a final rule requiring smoke-free policies for all public housing authorities. Effective Feb. 3, 2017, all public housing authorities have 18 months to pass such a policy. For more information, visit

Smoking and tobacco products kill more African-Americans than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drug use, homicide, suicide and other non-tobacco related cancers.

Examples of smoke-free environments in California are workplaces, restaurants, indoor public areas, parks, outdoor dining, and in cars with children under the age of 18. It would be great if all multi-unit housing in Oakland were smoke free, not just those in public housing.

What is second hand smoke (SHS)? It is the smoke exhaled by the person who is smoking and the smoke burning off the tip of the cigarette. SHS is a known carcinogen and is as deadly as the worst industrial air pollutants. It has 4,000 chemicals, of which 250 are toxic and at least 69 can cause cancer. No level of secondhand tobacco smoke is safe, PERIOD.

What is the problem? Exposure to SHS in multi-unit properties creates health dangers for all tenants, including children and the elderly. The smoke drifts and travels throughout the building through electrical outlets, shared ventilation systems, under doors and through windows.

No level of secondhand tobacco smoke is safe, PERIOD.

Why does this matter to me? I have personally encountered second hand smoke where I live and my experience made me so ill that I was coughing and it affected my breathing.

My neighbor also shared his family’s on-going experience with SHS living on the first floor of our building. Neighbors smoke outside in front of the doorway, and the SHS travels to his bathroom window.

Now when I come in contact with SHS, I personally educate the smoker about the SHS dangers. I also provide them with resources where they can get help.

Breathing clean air while living in a multi-unit housing building is a health equity issue. Tenants want to restrict smoking in multi-unit housing. In Alameda County, most adults do not smoke.

The majority of multi-unit housing residents believe that everyone has a right to live in a smoke-free building. Smoking is banned where most adults work and play. In your home, where young children, the elderly and the disabled spend most of their time, are you protected from SHS?

Breathing clean air while living in a multi-unit housing building is a health equity issue.

Cities in the Bay Area that have passed smoke-free housing laws are Alameda, Belmont, Berkeley, Burlingame, El Cerrito, Foster City, Petaluma, Richmond, San Anselmo, San Rafael, Sebastopol, Union City, Walnut Creek, and unincorporated areas of Santa Clara, Sonoma and San Mateo counties. The City of Oakland could add its name to this list by passing a multi-unit housing smoke-free policy.

What’s the solution? Oakland needs a strong 100 percent smoke-free multi-unit housing policy. We must educate our youth and communities regarding why Oakland needs it.

Marlene Hurd is a political activist, policy advocate, Mills College alumna and a former student of Professor Wanda Sabir. She can be reached at

6 thoughts on “Why Oakland needs a multi-unit smoke free housing policy

  1. Mike

    O.M.C. 8.30.060(B) already prohibits smoking directly outside your neighbor's window. Request OPD to enforce it, or your landlord if it's on his property.

  2. Neil

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  3. mymarkx

    What about those of us who have been smoking for 60 or 70 years and do not wish to quit?

    Many landlords are smoker-free, some cities are smoker-free, and California plans to be smoker-free by 2030. As a smoker, I can't help but think about the time that Germany tried to become Jew-free. If some people can't or won't be Aryan, and can't or won't leave, the only way to become [scapegoat]-free is to kill the targeted group.

    I think we might need a California Society for the Humane Treatment of Smokers. Smokers are the new Jews. It is happening right before our eyes and we're pretending not to see it. It happens that WWII Germany did the same thing–Aryans didn't smoke. Once they lost the war and people could smoke again, their cancer rate had not been reduced by the anti-smoking campaign. In fact, wherever there has been a steep reduction in smoking, there is a steep rise in cancer, particularly childhood cancer of toddlers who were never exposed to second-hand smoke, an inverse correlation which may not prove anything in and of itself, but is consistent.

    So there are other known causes of cancer, like smog and radiation. But we only remove citizenship (equal rights, equal protections) from smokers, not from drivers who collectively cause smog that causes cancer in and kills children, nor from the owners of nuclear power plants whose radioactive emissions give kids cancer and kills them.

    Is that how capitalism works? If there's a slight possibility that you might cause harm to others, you become a subhuman with no rights, but if you openly kill millions of people you're too big to fail or to be held accountable?

    I'm so glad to learn that unlike San Diego, where I live, Oakland doesn't have a homelessness problem. Here we evict elderly people for smoking and when they refuse to pay rent on facilities called "housing" where they can't smoke (seniors are usually old enough to know a penal facility when they see one, or when a landlord or a law changes their senior residence building into one), they are blamed for causing their own problem.

    We could grandfather in elderly smokers. That's what my new landlord did. But then he ungrandfathered us. Giving landlords the power to decide if a person has the right to the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment, or is a subhuman not entitled to equal protection under law, means that I don't know how to answer the new census if they add a citizenship question. Am I not a citizen because I don't have equal protection the way that citizens do? I have a CDL and a passport, but I can't smoke in the penal facilty I used to think was "my own home."

    They took a mentally unstable person who had been homeless for over 30 years, and punished me for becoming stable by taking away the primary means by which I remained stable. Oh sure, I might be able to learn to smoke weed instead, if I could afford it, but what if I want to smoke something that doesn't mess with my head? Something I used to do on every job I ever had.

    Besides, treating my hand-rolled organic tobacco as if it had chemical additives, is like banning a new car because an older model no longer passes a smog test. They've even banned vaping, not because of anything in the vaping fluids, but because it looks like smoking, they hate smokers, and they hate anything and anyone associated with smokers.

    So there is supportive housing now for ex-convicts, alcoholics, and drug addicts, but not for elderly smokers. If smoking is so bad, why are there so many elderly smokers? Why aren't we all sick or dead?


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