Massachusetts moving to stamp out smoking in public housing citing health, safety concerns

The Associated Press, April 3, 2014

BOSTON – Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration moved Thursday to stamp out smoking in public housing in Massachusetts.

The Department of Housing and Community Development issued guidelines to all 240 local housing authorities urging them to develop smoke-free policies for their state-aided public housing units.

Such policies would prohibit tenants from smoking in a housing authority’s buildings and apartments.

Local housing authorities couldn’t ban tenants who smoke, nor could they force a tenant to quit smoking in order to keep their apartment, as long as they don’t smoke in any of a housing authority’s buildings or units.

Smoking is allowed in state public housing units, although it’s banned in common areas.

Housing Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein said the goal is to protect the health of residents from secondhand smoke, prevent deaths and injuries from smoking-related fires, and to reduce the cost of having to scrub away smoke stains, replace carpeting and clean ductwork and fans when turning over a unit to a nonsmoker.

Gornstein also said many developments are multi-story, meaning cigarette smoke in one apartment can drift into other apartments or through shared ventilation systems.

“All of this makes it difficult to fully prevent smoke from spreading from one unit to another or eliminating smoking odors,” Gornstein said in a letter to the directors of local housing authorities.

Tom Connelly, executive director of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, said he welcomed the help to eliminate smoking in public housing units.

“Smoking is a serious safety and quality of life issue for all residents,” Connelly said in a statement, adding that smoke-free housing policies will “address public health issues, reduce maintenance and insurance costs, lessen property loss by fire, and prevent personal injuries.”

Gornstein also said it’s important for local housing authority to have information regarding smoking cessation programs and resources available to tenants who express interest in quitting.

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