Smoking inside any public housing facility, including apartments and homes offered by the Columbus Housing Authority, is no longer allowed.
Since Monday, public housing residents have been banned from smoking tobacco within their rental homes — or within 25 feet of any door in their apartment complex, federal officials said.
Initially announced in early 2017, the ban does not apply to tenants receiving Section 8 housing vouchers who have independent landlords who set their own smoking policies.
When people living in public housing in Columbus were surveyed last fall on the ban, one female tenant of the Sycamore Place Apartments wrote she was fine with getting cigarettes out of the apartment complex.
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But others feel differently.
“That’s really just taking away your rights,” said Amanda Mudd, a tenant at the Pence Place Apartment public housing unit in southeast Columbus. “Soon, they aren’t going to let you smoke on the street.”
Pence Place is one of three public housing complexes managed by the Columbus Housing Authority. The housing authority’s 154 rental units also includes 42 stand-alone homes that also became smoke-free this week.
The housing authority chose to forbid smoking on all public housing grounds, rather than establish designated smoking areas within the complexes, executive director Alan Degner said.
People caught smoking the first time will be given a friendly reminder of the new policies, public housing manager Jill Sharp said.
A second warning will be allowed, but a third infraction gives the housing authority to file an eviction notice, she said.
“My goal is not to have to evict anyone over this,” Sharp said. “My job is to house people, so I’m going to work with them whenever I can.”
Since the ban is new to everyone, Degner said he’s not sure how the housing authority is going to police the matter.
One option still available for smokers is the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems, but Sharp says she anticipates the federal government will eventually forbid the use of e-cigarettes and vaping in public housing as well.
The local housing authority has offered free smoking-cessation classes to their tenants, but no one has taken advantage of the offer, Sharp said.
The ban affects every public housing agency in the United States, which must now be smoke free, according to Healthy Communities at Columbus Regional Health.
At least 600 of the 3,100 public housing agencies across the country already had smoke-free policies in place prior to the ban, according to the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.
In Indiana, about a third of the 23,000 adults residing in public housing smoke, state officials said.
Eliminating smoking indoors and close to buildings is the only way to fully protect people from secondhand smoke, said Kylee Jones, Healthy Communities tobacco awareness coordinator.
Such policies create healthy environments that help and encourage people who are interested in quitting tobacco use, Jones said.
But the 25-foot rule does place a number of tenants in the Columbus area in bad situations, according to Degner and Sharp.
“Do I want a mom to have to go out to her car at night to have a cigarette and leave her kids unsupervised?” Sharp said. “No, I don’t want that at all.”
The housing authority also houses physically challenged smokers who are incapable of leaving their homes, Degner said.
“It’s going to be difficult for a number of smokers,” Degner said. “But HUD doesn’t give us a lot of latitude in adjusting policies.”
While Healthy Communities is focused on health concerns, HUD officials say the smoking ban is also intended to reduce damage and maintenance expenses to rental facilities.
It can cost up to an additional $400 in labor and materials to prime the walls and ceilings of a rental unit in order to prevent smoke and nicotine from bleeding through a new coat of paint, Sharp said.
Even if heavy smokers leave carpeting in good shape when they move out, no amount of cleaning can eliminate the smell of stale tobacco smoke left behind in the carpet fibers, so up to $600 has to be invested in new carpet, Sharp said.
Neither Degner nor Sharp could recall the last time a lit cigarette has sparked a fire inside one of their rental units.
But if burning tobacco were to fall onto a pile of magazines or newspapers, it could have tragic consequences, Sharp said.
The move toward smoke-free public housing highlights the overall growing support for smoke-free multi-unit housing, such as for private and market rate apartment complexes, Jones said.
A statewide effort is underway by the American Lung Association to encourage private landlords in Indiana to consider similar bans on their properties, Jones said.
Although there are already apartment complexes with no-smoking policies in Bartholomew County, Jones says the Healthy Communities initiative is still in the early stages of surveying Columbus area landlords about a smoke-free policy.
The following is the timeline followed by the Columbus Housing Authority in notifying tenants of a public housing smoking ban.
Nov. 17: Proposed ban published in the Federal Register.
Feb. 3: Final rule published. Housing authorities given until the end of July 2018 to implement the ban.
Feb. 16: Initial letter announcing the upcoming smoking ban sent to all tenants.
Oct. 23: Reminder and questionnaire regarding cessation classes sent to all tenants.
Feb. 16: Flyers sent to all tenants regarding smoking cessation classes at Columbus Regional Health.
March 6: Notice announcing upcoming smoking ban sent out to all tenants.
July 2: No smoking signs posted at all public housing complexes.
July 30: Ban goes into effect.
Source: Jill Sharp, Public Housing Manager, Columbus Housing Authority.
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