Two partners working for a smoke free region

March 17, 2015

Since 1999 the Paso del Norte Health Foundation has worked diligently and strategically to transform the border into a smoke-free region and to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke. The rate of adult smokers was reduced from 21.5 percent in 1996 to 13.3 percent in 2010. This is one of the most significant statements of impact on the Foundation’s work. Two current efforts demonstrate the Foundation’s continued commitment to a Smoke Free Paso del Norte. In 2014, UTEP implemented a tobacco-free policy for its campus, including the Don Haskins Center, Sun Bowl Stadium and every building affiliated with the University. Students, employees and visitors to the campus are not allowed to smoke anywhere on campus, and the University offers smoking cessation programs to help employees kick the habit and to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke. Then this year, the Housing Authority of El Paso moved to a smoke-free environment for its 6,174 housing units. The Housing Authority is currently converting its units from public housing to Section 8 Project Based Rental Assistance. This shift entails relocating families to temporary housing so their current units can be renovated or rebuilt. Once families return to the renovated or rebuilt housing, the Housing Authority’s smoke-free policy will be enforced. “A key aspect of smoke-free housing is that the purpose is not to get smokers out of the building, but to get the smoke out of the building,” said UTEP’s project principal investigator, Holly Mata. “The focus is really on reducing exposure to secondhand smoke than it is to reduce smoking rates. The most important numbers to us were that almost half (of residents) reported secondhand smoke exposure, and that more than 80 percent supported smoke-free housing.” The grant also connected HACEP and other youth throughout the region in smoke-free policy advocacy activities, from writing letters to city council members supporting improvements to the Clean Air Ordinance to participating in the Texas Tobacco Free Kids Day. “The grant enabled us to build upon our existing collaboration by expanding HACEP youth programs, engaging more UTEP students from Public Health Sciences and Nursing in community health promotion and other HACEP programs,” said Mata. “It also provided opportunities for our next generation of public health and healthcare professionals to gain experience in policy advocacy efforts, which is something we often don’t learn much about in school. Another major benefit for the Housing Authority is smoke-free housing results in reduced insurance premiums, less fire damage and less maintenance inside and out, said Maria Flores, Housing Authority Community Services Supervisor. “The biggest savings comes when people move out and units are cleaned and rehabilitated for the next resident,” Flores said. “Studies have shown that the costs are from three to six times more to rehab a unit where smoking was allowed. This has tremendous implications fiscally.” Flores said the smoke-free policy will be effective April 1 and will be enforced as families return to the renovated or rebuilt housing unit. Where the Paso del Norte Health Foundation once imagined a smoke-free Paso del Norte, it now has two more cornerstones in place at UTEP and the Housing Authority to show how much a reality the dream has become.

Grantee Summary: Housing Authority of the City of El Paso - $83,679.20 Smoke Free Youth Empowerment and Advocacy

To provide support to implement smoke-free policy in all public housing facilities in El Paso, Texas, by training staff and management in implementation and enforcement and by training youth and their families in tobacco control advocacy and policy change strategies.

University of Texas at El Paso - $47,016.00 Our Homes, Our Health: Smoke Free Policy in Public Housing To facilitate the implementation of smoke-free public housing policies at the Housing Authority of the City of El Paso (HACEP) by educating the staff and decision-makers about the benefits of smoke-free housing and assessing the readiness of the HACEP residents.

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