By Joseph Tingley
June 17, 2015, The Daily Gazette
SCHENECTADY – A smoke-free policy imposed by the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority in 2013 at its Ten Eyck, Shonowee Village and Lincoln Heights housing buildings is largely supported by housing authority staff and residents, a survey has found.
Jeanie Orr, project coordinator for the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition and Smoke-Free Housing New York, said the effort to ban smoking in the authority’s apartments began in 2012 after she received a call from a concerned resident. The resident who contacted Orr had been a critical incident worker at ground zero following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Since then, she has suffered from respiratory problems that make it difficult for her to breathe. According to Orr, the tobacco smoke didn’t help.
Orr contacted the executive director of the housing authority, who brought the issue to the board of directors, which passed the measure.
Orr said that when the policy was first implemented, it had a majority of residents’ support, but barely. Two years later, 68 percent of residents surveyed said they like living in a smoke-free building.
Cynthia Coombs, a resident at Ten Eyck, expressed her support for the new policy, saying the tobacco smoke made it difficult for her to breath.
“I think that the non-smoking policy has been helpful,” Coombs said.
Though it may seem smoking only affects the smoker, Orr said that the hazardous effects go much further. She said 65 percent of the air in apartment buildings is shared by residents as it circulates throughout.
“Yes, it’s your home, but it’s everyone’s home,” said Orr.
The survey, conducted by the smoke-free coalition, also found 61 percent of residents who responded reported there was someone in their apartment with a medical condition that was aggravated by tobacco smoke.
“There is a lot of people here who can’t take it and have oxygen in their rooms,” said Nancy DeVito, another Ten Eyck resident.
Orr said the health risks don’t stop with the smoker. Smoking can leave residue in a room that can be deadly to young children, she said. Sudden infant death syndrome is thought to be a result of this so called third-hand smoke, according to Orr.
She said the new policy is an important step in protecting public health.
“People should be able to breathe in their own home,” Orr said.
The housing authority has also benefited from the smoke-free policy, according to its executive director, Richard Homenick. He said maintenance on units occupied by smokers is far more expensive than those of non-smokers because of the smoke residue and burns that have to be dealt with. He said the smoking ban also improves fire safety.
Coombs, who uses a wheelchair, said the policy makes her feel much safer.
“There are health concerns, of course, but there are also safety concerns,” said Ten Eyck project manager Dina Puente.
Both Puente and Coombs cited the recent Jay Street fire as a cause for concern over fire safety and cigarette smoking.
Homenick said the policy is taken seriously by staff, and the authority will take repeated violators to eviction court, if necessary.
“You get three opportunities to violate the rule before we have to go hardline,” Homenick said.
But so far that hasn’t been necessary, he said.
The Schenectady housing authority is among 32 in the state and 500 nationwide to ban smoking.
Both DeVito and Coombs said they appreciate the efforts of smokers in the building to smoke outside.
Not everyone is seeing the new rule as a positive, though. Audrey Silk, founder of a New York City-based lobbying group, Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, called the new policy an outrage. She said it is simply implausible for smoke to cause harm to residents in other apartments.
“What about peanut dust? Is that making it through the vents,” Silk said.
Silk called the entire issue a “manufactured crusade” against smokers and an unlawful intrusion into the homes of adults who choose to smoke.