- Less than half of the 12 largest local housing corporations (social housing providers) in Ontario have smoke-free policies.
- Social housing residents are less able to leave a situation where they are exposed to second-hand smoke.
- Ontario could consider opportunities to protect social housing residents from second-hand smoke.
A recent analysis found that Ontarians living in social housing are vulnerable to second-hand smoke because less than half of the 12 largest local housing corporations (social housing providers) in Ontario have smoke-free policies. The 5 local housing corporations with smoke-free policies that prohibit smoking in residential units for new leases are Ottawa Community Housing Corporation, Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation, Waterloo Region Housing, The District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board and Housing York Inc. (Table 1). They house about 60,500 people, which is about a quarter of the estimated 219,200 residents who live in the local housing corporations examined.
Residents of multi-unit housing (e.g., apartment buildings) are more likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke than those who live in detached, single-family homes. People living in social housing, which is largely made up of multi-unit housing, are also less able to leave a situation where second hand smoke is entering their home because their income, employment status, age, disabilities or chronic illnesses may limit their ability to move.
Table 1: Smoke-free policies among social housing providers in Ontario, as of May 2017
|Local housing corporation||Number of residents (approximate)||Has the local housing corporation implemented a smoke-free policy?|
|Toronto Community Housing Corporation||110,000||No|
|Ottawa Community Housing Corporation||32,000||Yes: Ottawa Community Housing No-Smoking Policy. Effective May 31, 2014.|
|Peel Housing Corporation (operating as Peel Living)||15,600||No|
|Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation||12,000||Yes: Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation Smoke-Free Policy. Effective January 1, 2018.*|
|Waterloo Region Housing||7,500||Yes: Waterloo Region Housing Smoke-Free Policy. Effective April 1, 2010.|
|London and Middlesex Housing Corporation||5,000||No|
|Niagara Regional Housing||5,000||No|
|The District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board||5,000||Yes: The District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board Housing Services Smoke-Free Policy. Effective September 1, 2015.|
|Greater Sudbury Housing Corporation||4,500||No|
|Housing York Inc.||4,000||Yes: Smoke-Free Policy for Housing York Inc. Effective November 1, 2014.|
|Halton Community Housing Corporation||3,600||No|
Sources: Local housing corporations
Notes: • *Information provided February 2018. • The presence of a smoke-free policy at each of the 12 local housing corporations was determined by reviewing their website and contacting the corporation to verify what was found. Because they are typically the largest single social housing provider in a service area, local housing corporations are the focus here. For feasibility, the policy scan was limited to local housing corporations with 1,500 or more residential units. • Details about the smoke-free policies are presented in the Supplementary Tables for the Prevention System Quality Index: Health Equity report.
Exposure to second-hand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer and probably increases the risk of cancers of the larynx and pharynx. In Ontario, there has been significant progress in reducing tobacco exposure through Smoke-Free Ontario laws, policies and programs, but Ontarians with lower incomes or less education continue to be exposed to second-hand smoke at higher rates than the rest of the population.
Smoke-free policies in social housing, which apply to all new leases, prohibit smoking inside residential units and related outdoor areas (e.g., balconies). However, tenants who signed their lease before the policy’s implementation are exempt from the policy as long as they continue to live in the same unit. Policies also have exemptions for medical marijuana and traditional tobacco use for cultural or spiritual purposes by Indigenous tenants. The Smoke-Free Ontario Act prohibits smoking in common areas of apartment and condominium buildings, such as stairwells, hallways, parking garages and party rooms.
Many local public health agencies are working with local housing corporations and other social housing providers to develop and implement smoke-free policies. Activities include surveying tenants on their tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, delivering presentations about smoke-free policies to the local housing corporation’s board of directors, conducting evaluation surveys after the policy has been implemented and helping housing staff to support tenants who want to quit smoking, including providing information about where to access free cessation services.
In addition to smoke-free policies at the local level, the province could consider opportunities to increase protection for social housing residents from second-hand smoke. For example, a nationwide smoke-free policy for all new leases in public housing agencies became effective in the United States in 2017.
For more information about smoke-free policies in social housing, health equity and cancer prevention, please see the Prevention System Quality Index: Health Equity report and its supplementary tables.