Tobacco and poverty go hand-in-hand the world round, and one of the main reasons is that tobacco causes so much sickness and disease that sap families’ ability to work and succeed. Plus, tobacco is expensive, but the addict must pay. The poorest households in low-income countries spend about 10 percent of their total expenditures on tobacco, according to the World Health Organization. The impact on children is particularly harsh. A total of 35 percent of children live with a smoking adult, nearly 5 times higher than the rate of nonsmoking adults who lived with smokers. And for poor children, the data is even worse: Half of all children living below the federal poverty line have at least one adult smoker in the house.
Second-hand smoke causes many health problems in kids, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of tobacco and poverty. The latest news is that second-hand smoke can significantly increase learning disabilities among children. Children exposed to second-hand smoke are nearly three times more likely to have learning disabilities.
One solution to protect kids from second-hand smoke is restricting smoking in apartment buildings. Poor children are much more likely to live in apartment buildings than wealthier kids. Tobacco smoke penetrates neighboring apartments through openings for electrical wiring, light fixtures, plumbing, baseboards and duct work. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine put it clearly:
A resident who smokes in a single unit within a multi-unit residential building puts the residents of the other units at risk.
So far, it’s been mostly wealthier cities that are passing laws restricting smoking in multi-family housing. But National City here in San Diego County is considering such an ordinance, specifically to protect the children of this working-class community. Children can’t choose where they live. We shouldn’t force them to breathe tobacco smoke just because they’re poor.