Smoke-Free Affordable Housing: Picking on Poor People or a Case for Social Justice?
What does tobacco control have to do with social justice? The answer is, as it turns out, a lot.
Demand for smoke-free housing in Canada is increasing, and landlords are starting to take notice. However, there remains an acute shortage of multi-unit buildings for people who need or want to live smoke-free. This is the case for Canadians seeking market rate rental housing, and especially so for those who cannot afford market rate and must rely upon affordable housing.
It has been said that prohibiting smoking in affordable housing is an attack on the poor and vulnerable who are already at the margins of society. Negative media coverage has claimed that such policies are discriminatory and amount to enforced smoking cessation because low income families are over-represented in the smoking population.
This issue needs to be re-framed from a social justice perspective, both for the nonsmokers and smokers who live in affordable housing. Social justice is about seeking (and achieving) equity for vulnerable and marginalized populations. Health inequity is the result of disadvantage in opportunities, in material circumstances and in behaviours related to health. Tobacco control with a social justice approach recognizes the social determinants of health1 and has the potential to remove barriers and equalize opportunities to enable marginalized people to enjoy better health, free of the consequences of tobacco addiction.