All Kentucky public housing under smoking ban as of July 31; some housing authorities are offering help with cessation

As of July 31, all federally funded housing projects are supposed to be smoke-free, a rule that has caused some controversy, but one that has helped some residents to quit smoking — or move.

Smokers ask, “Why are you targeting smokers?” Non-smokers say, “It’s about time,” Andrea Wilson of the Lexington Housing Authoritytold Hillary Thornton of WKYT-TV.

“I don’t think it’s fair for them to stop us from smoking in our apartments . . . and come outside, because a lot of us have disabilities,” Michael Taylor told Gil Corsey of WDRB-TV, while smoking a cigarette in his wheelchair outside his public housing unit in downtown Louisville.

In Owensboro, “The question posed to me most is whether people are moving out because of it,” Shauna Boom, executive director of the Housing Authority of Owensborotold Jacob Dick of the Messenger-Inquirer. “I don’t think it’s specifically been about the smoking ban. It might have been the last straw that pushed them toward a decision they were already thinking about.”

The ban was set two years ago by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The rule prohibits the use of cigarettes, cigars and pipes, but does not ban electronic cigarettes, although individual housing authorities can ban them. HUD also bans the use of tobacco products within 25 feet of the buildings. Click here for a question-and-answer sheet about the new policy.

The ban is meant to protect residents and visitors from secondhand smoke. “Eliminating smoking indoors and close to buildings is the only way to fully protect people from secondhand smoke,” says a fact sheet about the policy.

The U.S. surgeon general said in 2006 that scientific evidence shows that “separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 41,000 Americans die each year from secondhand smoke, with about 1,000 of those deaths in Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy.

 

Boom told the Messenger-Inquirer that the Owensboro housing authority, which has 560 residential units at six locations, used the two-year lead time to educate their clients about the process.

“We did a lot of education to explain where this regulation came from and how it was to be enforced,” Boom said. “We also partnered with the American Lung Association and had a grant where we could provide smoking cessation classes.” She added that the new rule have resulted in some people quitting.

The Lexington housing officials told WKYT that they also had worked with the health department to help those who want to quit smoking. “They can attend the cessation classes for free,” Wilson said.

HUD says the ban will save an estimated $153 million per year in costs associated with health care, repairs and fire damage” to almost 1 million subsidized housing units.

How are violations of the new policy handled? It varies by housing authority.

A first-time violation in Owensboro will result in a warning, followed by a letter reminding the violator that certain actions, including eviction, are within the power of the agency, Dick reports.

The first violation in Lexington will result in a warning, a second could mean a cleaning fee and a third could result in eviction, WKYT reports.

In Louisville, first-time violators will be warned, second-timers fined $15, third-timers $30, followed by several $45 fines, WDRB reports. Repeat violators can be evicted, Louisville’s leases say.

Kentucky offers the Kentucky Quitline program called Quit Now Kentucky, which can be found at www.quitnowkentucky.org or by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). Also, health departments, health organizations and many employers offer free or low-cost smoking cessation programs. State law also requires insurance companies, Medicaid and its managed-care organizations to cover the cost of smoking-cessation treatments and counseling without imposing any barriers.