In spite of a healthy U.S. housing market, real estate brokers have had more difficulty finding buyers for homes and condominiums that smell strongly of tobacco smoke, according to a Feb. 8, 2004, article in the New York Times. The American Lung Association, which has been warning people of the health risks of tobacco for more than 50 years, has heard of this secondary financial risk of smoking before.

“Potential home buyers may not always be able to articulate exactly what a ‘healthy’ house is, but they know an unhealthy environment when they smell it,” said Angie Lien, national director of the American Lung Association Health House program, the nonprofit’s indoor air quality program. “Our program has received more attention in real estate trade publications in recent years than anytime during its 10-year existence. While some of this can be attributed to heightened public concerns about mold, I believe there is a greater overall public awareness of indoor air problems in our homes, and the beginnings of a class of better informed, health-conscious home buyers.”

Stephen R. Klossner, a building consultant in Afton, Minn., with more than 20 years of experience in the indoor air quality field, is not surprised by the New York Times article’s conclusions. “Even smokers are turned off by the smell of secondhand smoke when they are looking for a new home,” he noted. “Just ask anyone in the smoke and fire cleaning business – nothing sticks to carpet, walls and furniture like smoke.”

Klossner, a consultant with the American Lung Association Health House program, notes the recent wave of “killer mold” stories in the news media with some irony. “The hard data linking human exposure to mold with serious health risks just isn’t there – still, mold gets all the attention,” he said. “Secondhand tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, 200 of which are known poisons, and more than 50 of these are known cancer-causing agents. You tell me which one you would rather have in your house.”

The American Lung Association Health House program offers a variety of consumer tip sheets and workbooks. In addition to tip sheets on secondhand smoke, the site also has useful information on radon, mold, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), furnace filters, cleaning products and other issues pertaining to indoor air in the home.

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