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September 1, 2014, 12:44 pm

Housing Authority works to reduce smoking

The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) has joined the city in an effort to reduce smoking, improve family health and have a long-term impact on health care costs.

In early 2012, PHA began working with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) on its citywide Get Healthy Philly initiative. Get Healthy Philly is funded, in part, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its goal is to make the healthy choice the easy choice for all Philadelphians.

The housing authority has begun offering smoking cessation classes to employees, and will soon make them available to residents. PHA will also promote free quit-smoking resources, such as the Quitline (1-800-QUIT-NOW) and PHA will also seek to educate residents about the harms of secondhand smoke and implement smoke-free environments at two public housing developments as part of a pilot project.

“Smoking is the leading cause of death and disability among Philadelphians,” said Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA’s interim executive director.

“Over 36 percent of PHA’s residents smoke, and that is nearly double the national average. Twenty-nine percent allow smoking in their homes, so secondhand smoke is a serious issue as well.”

Secondhand smoke has been linked to heart disease, lung cancer, lower respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, upper respiratory tract irritations, asthma flare-ups and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

“Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and lung cancer,” said Dr. Donald F. Schwarz, Health Commissioner of Philadelphia.

“We need to make sure smokers have information and support to help them quit. Smokers who use help — like counseling or nicotine patches — are twice as likely to quit for good.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a notice in 2009 strongly encouraging housing authorities to voluntarily implement smoke-free policies in some or all of their units. Such a move would require updates to the terms of PHA’s lease after public hearings were held and a policy change was approved.

Faith Simmons, the Health Federation of Philadelphia’s smoking cessation specialist, is conducting workshops for PHA employees. She said that smokers who want to quit “have to review their habits, figure out what prompts them to smoke, and then make a plan to substitute some other activity for smoking. Cold turkey won’t do.”

Participation in the smoking cessation program is confidential.

“Nicotine is the most addictive substance that’s out there,” Simmons said.

“That’s what makes it so difficult for people to get away from it. But with support, determination and a good plan, people can become smoke-free.”