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Each year, nearly 45,000 Black Americans die from smoke related diseases like heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. This is more lives than are lost, experts say, to homicide, diabetes, AIDS and accidents combined.

Additionally, nearly 68 percent of Black children and close to 37 percent of White kids between the ages of three and 11 are exposed to secondhand smoke, which can lead to a host of respiratory issues, most notably severe asthma, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Armed with those numbers, Washington health experts are calling for more smoke-free public spaces, specifically housing, in the District as a tool to tackle smoking-related death disparities.

A panel including Carla D. Williams, interim director of Howard University Cancer Center; Charles Debnam, DC Tobacco Free Coalition; Bonita McGee, DOH Tobacco Control Programs; Eric Vicks, DC Primary Care Association; David Mariner, DC Center; Jose Majano, Mary’s Center; Paul Kennedy, AmeriHealth DC; Charles M. Sutton, Smoke Free Places, Home Healthy Home project for Breathe DC; Rolando Andrewn, Breathe DC; Alexandra Nassau-Brownstone, Somerset Development Company; Laura Hale, American Lung Association in DC; and Kayla Robinson, R Street Apartments.

The panelists discussed smoke-free initiatives as part of a weeklong series geared towards smoking cessation at Howard University’s Blackburn Center. DC Tobacco Free Coalition and the D.C. Department of Health sponsored the week.

Panelists said they want to transform homes in the District into safe places for people to raise their kids without the threat of second and thirdhand smoke.

“The majority of residents tend to favor the new policies,” Sutton said, “ but there is a small minority that feels like it’s being imposed on them.”

D.C. resident Rochelle said she feels the smoke-free policy is an infringement on her lifestyle. Rochelle, 60, who declined to provide her last name for fear of being written-up by her housing management, said the managers of her building in southeast Washington sprang the policy on its residents without warning.

“One day we were in a meeting and the man who owned the property said, ‘We’re going to have no smoking,’” she said. “The next day there was a paper posted on our doors saying you can’t smoke in the building. I don’t think that was right.”

Rochelle said she has lived in her building for 28 years and has been smoking in her unit up until this year. The new policy states that residents cannot smoke anywhere on the property, so elderly and disabled residents have to leave the premises every time they want a cigarette.

“I have to go from the third floor downstairs, across the street then down the street to go smoke,” Rochelle said. “And I’m 60-years-old so that’s a walk for me.”

The hope is for longtime smokers to eventually quit, but it is a difficult road. Statistics show only 3.3 percent of Blacks who attempted to quit hadn’t relapsed after six months, compared to 6 percent of whites, according to a National Health Interview Survey.

Avoiding smoke-related diseases and keeping residents safe from second and thirdhand smoke is a priority for property management companies, but it isn’t the only benefit of smokefree policies for property management companies.

Kayla Robinson, a panelist at the conference and an assistant manager at R Street Apartments, said preparing a unit for a new tenant after a smoker has inhabited it is expensive. “We made the smoke-free decision first for residents’ health, but the turnover expense is very high,” Robinson said.

Alexandra Nassau-Brownstone of Somerset Development Companies agreed. “It costs five to six times as much to fully rehab a unit after a heavy smoker has lived there,” Nassau-Brownstone said.