The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has recommended that all public housing authorities and project-based Section 8 housing adopt smoke-free policies. / Thomas Trutschel, Photothek via Getty Images
AUBURN, N.Y. - Most residents of the Auburn Housing Authority near Syracuse don't smoke in their apartments.
And effective Sept. 1, any of their neighbors in the public housing complexes who do will be asked to take it outside.
The Auburn Housing Authority earlier this month passed a ban on smoking inside its 238 apartment units. With it, Auburn joined a growing list of housing authorities around the USA putting stronger limits or outright bans on tobacco use.
"This is all a convergence of thinking," said Sunia Zaterman, executive director of the Washington-based Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, whose membership operates about half of the public housing units in the nation. "You can't go into a restaurant or bar in many cities and smoke."
And that trend, along with 2010 and 2012 recommendations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that all public housing authorities and project-based Section 8 housing adopt smoke-free policies, has prompted an increasing number of public housing authorities to take such steps, Zaterman said.
"We're seeing (smoking restrictions) in public buildings and public spaces. This is really just a trend very much in tandem with that."
A ban at San Diego Housing Commission-owned properties went into effect in February. The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development in April put out guidelines to all of the state's local housing authorities, pushing them to come up with smoke-free regulations banning tenants from smoking in a housing authority's buildings and apartments. The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. is considering a ban.
And in Kansas City, Mo., a 2012 fire in a public housing highrise that caused $250,000 in damage was a big impetus for a ban that went into effect July 1 for the roughly 2,000 apartment units run by the Housing Authority of Kansas City.
"It's a health issue and also a capital issue," said Donovon Mouton, chairman of the Kansas City housing authority board. "The health of our tenants - physical health and financial health - is very much at the forefront." As are saving the authority costs associated with smoking, such as the expense of cleaning and repainting an apartment when a smoker leaves, Mouton said.
The policy was backed unanimously by the authority's public housing residents council, which has residents from each development, Mouton said.
"Some residents definitely are going to be unhappy," he said. "But the health of the majority - and theirs - will be improved over time with this change."
However, said Theodore J. King, author of The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, "Second-hand smoke seeping into other apartments is just bull----."
"Unless one is an asthmatic, second-hand smoke only has an effect if they're surrounded by it for decades in big concentrations," said King, of Rogers County, Okla.. "All these efforts are just trying to modify human behavior. The aim is to get people to stop using tobacco products ... and eventually criminalize tobacco. The endgame is the end of tobacco."
Stephanie Hutchinson, director of of the Auburn Housing Authority, said the ban there started with the HUD recommendation and a subsequent survey of residents showing most were in favor of an indoor smoking ban.
"We're not asking people to quit smoking," she said. " We're simply asking them to go outside when they do. We spoke briefly about making the properties 100 percent smoke free - a lot of affordable housing complexes do that. We weren't ready to enforce something like that or make a move like that. And we didn't think our tenants would be ready for something like that."
Daneman also reports for the Rochester (N.Y) Democrat and Chronicle.
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