Realtors: A Public Health Secret Weapon Against Second- and Thirdhand Smoke?

A recent study, led by Dr. Ann Klassen from Drexel University, found that Pennsylvania real estate professionals share concerns about tobacco use in homes, and had a harder time selling properties with a history of tobacco use. 

Dec 16, 2020

By: Leta Dickinson

While it has become commonplace for car rental agencies and hotels to explicitly prohibit smoking, such transparency and regulation do not exist for homes and personal properties. Thus, it falls on the realtors to decide whether or not to include information about possible second- and thirdhand smoke when communicating with buyers and sellers.

In order to better understand the role smoking plays in home sales, a team of researchers from Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health surveyed realtors from four Pennsylvania counties about both their professional experience and perspectives regarding how or if they address in-home smoking with buyers and sellers.

Dr. Ann Klassen, the lead researcher of the study and community health and prevention professor at Drexel University, emphasizes the important public health role that realtors play: “[Realtors are] often actually a source of public health information, even though they don’t see themselves as health educators. They often are the people who explain what radon is and ways [home owners] can protect themselves. It seemed like a natural extension of this role that we might partner with them to tell people about second- and thirdhand smoke.”

A total of 353 realtors who worked in diverse communities in and around Philadelphia completed the survey. The results showed consensus around two critical opinions: Nearly all of the surveyed realtors (96%) found it more difficult to sell homes where smoking had taken place, and realtors overwhelmingly (94%) recommended sellers address smoke residue by cleaning or replacing contaminated surfaces.

Although it was clear that smoking was viewed negatively by realtors, the survey revealed a more complicated response when it came to requiring seller disclosure of in-home tobacco use. While over a quarter of survey respondents (27%) anticipated a “mostly positive” impact, about half (53%) felt it would produce a “mixed” result. 

Dr. Klassen says this hesitancy to require disclosure is due to a need for further thirdhand smoke research and for increased awareness and education among realtors regarding the hazardous nature of smoking. She believes that public health should partner with real estate businesses to create a process that educates and protects home buyers and the real estate business.

“[Real estate professionals] want to know what the actual impact [of disclosure] would be on the industry. They want to know how it will affect the actual practice of buying and selling houses. How would we get the information? How would we disclose it accurately? What would be the legal implications?”

While there have been a few surveys of realtor opinions on in-home smoking that predate this most recent Pennsylvania study, Dr. Klassen sees her work paving the way for further thirdhand smoke research. She notes that Pennsylvania has higher smoking rates than other states so this research is particularly applicable locally, but hopes that her findings can inform in-home smoking interventions for communities all over the country, regardless of the smoking rates. 

As the research about thirdhand smoke further develops and effective remediation processes are introduced, Dr. Klassen hopes all people—realtors, home sellers and buyers, smokers, and non-smokers alike—become more aware of the risks of thirdhand smoke. From there, the prospect of a home purchase or sale can offer both monetary and health incentives for keeping a smokefree home. 

Dr. Klassen concludes by stressing that these findings are not intended to punish smokers: “I think some people see that there’s an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ issue—that smokers are harmed by these kinds of disclosures. But actually, we know a lot about how beneficial it is, even for smokers, to keep a smokefree home. Smokers care about their loved ones, and they try to minimize the impact of their smoking on the people around them, and keeping a clean home is a really important way to do that.”  


Note: Content was edited for style and length

Click here to read the research study.

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