More public housing smoking bans possible

  • Tue Aug 31st, 2010 10:54pm
  • News

By Noah Haglund Herald Writer

Two smokers outside the Bakerview Apartments were of different minds Monday about a smoking ban set to take effect next year — a policy that’s becoming widespread at public housing in Snohomish County.

Leo Laughran said he’s smoked in his room for the 15 years he’s lived at the Everett Housing Authority building in north Everett. He didn’t see why things should change.

“I don’t think it’s anybody’s business what I do in my own room as far as cigarettes go,” the 82-year-old said before pulling out a pack of Marlboro menthols. “They’re trying to take away the few pleasures I have left.”

David Carr, a 60-year-old sitting nearby, had no qualms.

“I smoke cigars, so I come out here anyway,” said Carr, who now smokes just a few times a month. “Back when everybody smoked everywhere, in elevators, in hospitals, nobody said anything.”

A new Snohomish County policy could encourage more public housing agencies to mostly or completely ban smoking. The move is supposed to keep tenants safe from second-hand smoke, reduce fire danger and save money spent removing smells, residues and damage in housing units vacated by smokers.

A vote is scheduled at today’s 9 a.m. County Council meeting. If positions hold, a majority of council members is likely to pass a strong financial incentive for housing agencies to adopt written no-smoking policies. It would give agencies with no-smoking policies bonus points in the funding process that pays for building, buying or overhauling housing. Some members of the council have supported encouraging agencies to adopt a no-smoking policy, without incentives.

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County, which is separate from county government, has no current smoking policy for the 2,000 housing units it owns and manages. The agency has some concerns, but will follow the county’s lead, said Ann Schroeder Osterberg, director of development, policy and programs.

“One of the things we pointed out to the county is if we’re in a position where we have to evict, then somebody could be losing their housing as a consequence of policies like that,” Schroeder Osterberg said. “Then again, we know that there are many people who don’t smoke and would be happy if there were those kinds of policies.”

Many of the county’s housing agencies already have smoking bans, or will soon. So far, smoking-related evictions haven’t been an issue.

The Everett Housing Authority’s ban is set to take effect at its 1,040 units in July 2011. The agency is still working out details such as rules for smoking in common areas, executive director Bud Alkire said.

“Even a majority of smokers think it’s OK to ban it in the building,” Alkire said. “So attitudes have changed over the years.”

Senior Services of Snohomish County, a nonprofit housing agency, banned indoor smoking in housing units in July 2008. It has 703 units at 17 locations in Snohomish County. Another agency, Housing Hope, has since the 1990s prohibited smoking in most of its facilities. It runs 300 housing units for homeless and low-income families.

The county provides no direct public housing, but doles out about $3 million each year for housing-related capital projects, said Dean Weitenhagen, the county’s the county’s supervisor of housing, homelessness and community development. The $7 million or so the county awards each year for housing-related services would not be impacted.

An incentive is a good interim step toward a full no-smoking policy, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. The goal is to create a safe environment for the majority of tenants, Goldbaum said, not to make smokers’ lives more difficult.

“This is a very reasonable transition,” he said. “It allows the policy to be implemented over time.”

Over the past decade, state Department of Health studies have shown that people in Washington have given up smoking in their homes at about double the rate of people giving up smoking altogether. In December 2005, Washington became the fifth state to prohibit smoking in restaurants, bars and taverns and all other workplaces.

While Snohomish County leaders talk of banning smoking in public housing, the discussion in Pierce County has extended to all multi-unit buildings. A group called People United for Smoke-Free Housing has asked the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Board to classify smoke as a nuisance, which could allow landlords to evict people for smoking.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.