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Columbia Housing Authority voting on smoking ban

Tuesday, the Columbia Housing Authority Board will vote on banning smoking inside public housing units.

If the board passes the smoke-free policy, the housing authority said it will start enforcing it in all of its 719 rental units on May 1.

The federal government has been encouraging the housing authority to make the city’s public housing smoke free for about six years, Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus said.

“It’s healthier for everyone that’s living in that building,” Steinhaus said. “There have been studies have shown that second-hand smoke affects people in neighboring apartments in multifamily buildings.”

Along with addressing health issues, the smoking ban will help CHA be more energy efficient, Steinhaus said. Air quality can be a concern in the small apartments.

And it costs a lot to clean a smoker’s apartment. The CHA cited a report done by the Auburn Housing Authority in Maine that found restoring a smoking unit can cost $1,300 to $2,700. And restoring a non-smoking unit costs less than $600.

“One of the things we’re trying to do here is work with a number of partners here in the community to offer smoking cessation programs, classes, access to patches or other things to help people if they want to quit,” Steinhaus said. “We’re not asking people to quit, we’re just asking people to go outside and smoke.”

In October 2010, the Columbia Housing Authority made three floors in Paquin Tower and two floors in Oak Towers smoke-free as a test run. According to Steinhaus, the ban went smoothly. Most smoking tenants chose to remain on the same floors and smoke outside.

“It’s no different than a motel room,” Steinhaus said. “You rent the hotel room, but it doesn’t necessarily give you the right to smoke within that hotel room. And I would say that the people that move in behind you also have rights not to have to come into an apartment that stinks of cigarette smoke.”

If a resident is caught smoking, they will be given a warning and then may face a $100-minimum cleaning fine or eviction, Steinhaus said.

Columbia will not be the first city in the state to implement this ban if it passes. Kansas City passed a public housing authority-wide smoking ban last July.

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