July 9, 1998
The Center for Social Gerontology
2307 Shelby Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103  
Tel: 734-665-1126  Fax: 734-665-2701  E-mail:

Gerontology Center Receives 3-Year Grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to Study Smoking Policies in Facilities Serving Elders

The Center for Social Gerontology (TCSG) announced today that it has been awarded a grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to conduct a 3-year policy research project, titled Smoking Policies in Elderly Facilities: Assessment of Current Policies & Development of Model Policies. This first-in-the-nation study has three overall goals:

  1. To assess the current status of smoking-related laws and policies in four key types of facilities serving the elderly (senior centers, adult day care centers, nursing homes and assisted living facilities);
  2. To develop model smoking policies for these four types of facilities; and
  3. To stimulate the adoption of the model smoking policies and practices at the federal, state, and local/facility levels for facilities serving older persons.

"In spite of all the current focus on smoking issues, very little attention has been paid to smoking and the elderly. Yet, over 13 million persons aged 50 and over currently smoke and over 4 million persons aged 65 and over smoke. Further, all 70 million persons aged 50 and over, including the 34 million aged 65 and over, are affected by second-hand smoke. The health effects of direct smoking and second-hand smoke on older persons are devastating. Of almost 416,000 smoking-related deaths annually in the U.S., 70% occur in people aged 65 and over, and more than 94% in those aged 50 and over. Of the over 53,000 annual deaths due to second-hand smoke, the major victims are also older persons. Thus, it is older Americans who endure the pain and suffering caused by tobacco," said James Bergman, TCSG's Co-Director and the director of this new RWJ-funded project.

"In addition to the human suffering caused by tobacco, in the next 20 years, Medicare expects to spend about $800 billion treating tobacco-related diseases, and Medicaid expenditures on elders with tobacco-related diseases cost additional billions. Further, the numbers of older Americans will increase dramatically, as the baby-boomers age, with resultant health care cost increases due to tobacco-related diseases. The need to focus on tobacco and older persons cannot be overstated," stated TCSG Co-Director Penelope Hommel.

While the numbers of elders affected and funds involved are astronomical, little is known about policies to reduce direct (smoking) and indirect (second-hand smoke and fires) dangers of tobacco to elders. Except for a recent survey by TCSG that provided some of the first data on smoke-free policies in community-based Michigan facilities serving elders, virtually no studies have examined smoking policies in non-residential (senior centers and adult day care) or residential (nursing homes and assisted living) facilities. Yet, such policies have a direct bearing on smoking habits and health of elders and a direct effect on non-smoking elders' health as a result of second-hand smoke.

Bergman stated that "this new study, which will include a national survey and in-depth site visits, will provide some of the first information on both the status of smoking policies in facilities serving the elderly in the U.S., as well as a first-ever analysis of all the federal and 50 states' smoking-related laws which apply to these facilities. The four types of facilities selected serve increasing numbers of some of the nations' most frail and vulnerable elderly."

The results of the three-year project will include the development of model smoking policies for adoption on the federal, state, and facility levels, as well as Best Practices Guidelines for use in facilities to effectively implement such policies. The results of this study, including the national survey, will be compiled in a Smoke-free Older Americans Report which will be disseminated to aging programs and the tobacco control community to stimulate the adoption of smoke-free policies in these key facilities serving the elderly. Results of the study will also be broadly disseminated to the media and general public.

The Center for Social Gerontology is a research, training and social policy organization which was founded in 1971 and is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. TCSG has pursued its goal of promoting the individual autonomy of older persons and advancing their well-being in society by means of various research, training and social policy projects over the years. During the past decade, TCSG has focused special attention on legal issues affecting older persons and currently serves as a U.S. Administration on Aging-funded National Support Center on Law and Aging. In recent years, TCSG has devoted special attention to the issue of tobacco and the elderly and now serves as a National Clearinghouse on Tobacco and Older Persons and publishes a quarterly newsletter, Tobacco & the Elderly Notes.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, New Jersey, is the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. It became a national institution in 1972 with receipt of a bequest from the industrialist whose name it bears, and has since made more than $2.6 billion in grants. The Foundation concentrates its grantmaking in three goal areas: to assure that all Americans have access to basic health care at reasonable cost; to improve the way services are organized and provided to people with chronic health conditions; and to reduce the personal, social, and economic harm caused by substance abuse -- tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.