Chinese Progressive Connects Tobacco with Housing Conditions

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Field of Work: Tobacco control in communities of color.

Problem Synopsis: People of color typically have higher rates of death and disease associated with tobacco use, according to research by the Praxis Project. However, relatively few tobacco-control policies have been enacted in communities of color. The vast majority of tobacco-control ordinances are enacted in small towns and suburban cities, rather than in the urban centers where people of color are more likely to live.

From 2002 to 2006, Policy Advocacy on Tobacco and Health (PATH), a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), provided funding and technical assistance to nine community-based organizations to work on tobacco policy initiatives designed to restrict smoking at the local level.

The residents of San Francisco's historic Chinatown, mostly lower-income immigrants from China, live primarily in single-room occupancy hotels and crowded apartment buildings, where housing, health and fire-code violations have been rampant.

Synopsis of the Work: PATH implemented a comprehensive strategy to strengthen minority-led, community-based coalitions that engage in tobacco policy change in communities of color. San Francisco's Chinese Progressive Association joined PATH in 2003 to combat secondhand smoke by getting the city to stiffen its building codes in residential hotels and apartment buildings.

Key Results: The association produced a report, Substandard Housing Conditions in San Francisco Chinatown: Health Impacts on Low-Income Immigrant Tenants, about substandard housing conditions in San Francisco's Chinatown that garnered extensive media coverage among both mainstream and Chinese press. It was a potent strategy for getting the attention of city regulators as well.

"We integrated tobacco control into the work we were already doing," said Chinese Progressive's executive director Gordon Mar, who managed the PATH project. "It did integrate very well with our broader agenda. It's an effective way to work, taking issues to our constituency in a way that was organic. They could see the connection between this issue and other environmental health issues."