Evaluation of Tobacco Control Policies in San Francisco Homeless Housing Programs

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Background. The 2014 Surgeon General’s Report noted that high smoking rates in vulnerable populations such as the homeless have been a persistent public health problem; smoking prevalence among individuals experiencing homelessness exceeds 70%. Historically, service providers for the homeless have not enacted comprehensive tobacco control policies. Method. We conducted a qualitative study of homeless housing programs in San Francisco. Administrators representing 9 of the city’s 11 homeless service agencies were interviewed to assess institutional smoking-related policies and cessation programs and perceived barriers and receptivity to instituting tobacco control interventions. Results. Respondents indicated that although most programs had adopted smoke-free grounds and some had eliminated evidence of staff smoking, the smoking status of clients was assessed only when required by funders. None of the programs offered smoking cessation interventions. Most administrators were receptive to adopting policies that would promote a tobacco-free culture; however, they noted that their clients had unique challenges that made traditional smoking cessation programs unfeasible. Conclusions. Homeless housing programs in San Francisco have not yet adopted a tobacco-free culture. Existing policies were created in response to external mandates, and smoking cessation programs may need to be modified in order to effectively reach clients.

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