Smoking banned at Houston public housing

By Cindy George
January 24, 2014, The Houston Chronicle

City agency puts policy in force in all of its units

The Houston Housing Authority has instituted a smoke-free policy intended to snuff out the consequences of direct or secondhand tobacco exposure.

Beginning this month, smoking is prohibited at the agency’s 25 public housing and tax credit properties throughout the city.

That means residents are no longer allowed to smoke inside their units, in common areas, in offices or within 25 feet of main entrances.

The policy affects members of the 5,500 families residing in housing authority properties and their guests, as well as agency employees.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been encouraging public housing agencies to implement smoke-free policies since at least 2010.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that firsthand, secondhand and thirdhand smoke are all bad,” housing authority president and CEO Tory Gunsolley said late Friday. “We’re going to be bringing in smoking cessation programs and a higher level of awareness of just how dangerous secondhand smoke is.”

(Thirdhand smoke lingers in clothes, hair, furnishings and surroundings after a cigarette is extinguished.)

All residents were asked to sign lease amendments that incorporated the new policy, which will be enforced as of April 1, Gunsolley said.

Last year, the agency’s board also decided to make all new housing developments smoke-free.
Gunsolley admitted that there has been some resistance to the policy.

“We sat down with the resident leaders and really explained that asthma rates in the inner city areas are off the charts and secondhand smoke really exacerbates that condition. An easy way to stop that is to get rid of secondhand smoke in the units,” he said. “That’s really the reason behind it – the health of our residents, particularly the nonsmokers who don’t have the choice. They choose not to smoke, but they’re still impacted.”

Older residents
Assata Richards, the housing authority board’s vice chair, said she championed the policy and was particularly sensitive to concerns expressed by older residents.

“Seniors in high rises would really complain about secondhand smoke and how it was creating health problems for them,” she said. “We really want to be a part of creating safe communities for our residents, particularly our seniors and our children.”

This month, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an update on the health consequences of smoking in the 50 years since the office’s inaugural 1964 report.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 44 million U.S. adults – or 19 percent of those 18 and older – smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is the nation’s leading cause of preventable death.

Nicotine use causes diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and colorectal cancer. Exposure to secondhand smoke has causal links to cancer as well as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and to adverse affects on the health of children.

Agency joins others
Houston is among several Texas cities with an ordinance that bans smoking in public places. The Houston Housing Authority is the latest agency to forbid residential smoking.

The University of Texas at Austin has prohibited the use of tobacco products inside campus buildings for two decades, but expanded the ban in 2012 to sidewalks and parking areas.

Similar policies are in place at the University of Houston and Texas A&M University.

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