FORT WAYNE – Starting Jan. 1, public housing units in Fort Wayne will be smoke-free.
Fort Wayne Housing Authority officials announced the change Thursday, just as residents were receiving information packets on the change. Residents will have until Dec. 31 to sign a lease addendum agreeing there will be no smoking in their apartments, anywhere in their buildings or within 20 feet of the buildings.
FWHA owns and operates about 800 federally subsidized housing units in Fort Wayne for those with low incomes.
We are eager for the health and well-being of our residents to implement this policy, said Amy Jacobowitz, FWHA director of property management. The dangers of secondhand smoke are well documented and the majority of FWHA residents support smoke-free housing.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been pushing public housing agencies across the nation to go smoke-free but has not required it – yet. But the pressure from HUD and the changing legal environment left FWHAs board with little choice, Executive Director Maynard Scales said.
HUD advisories are just one step short of a requirement, Scales said. And when you look at the health issues, the quality-of-life issues, as well as the fire risks, and the issues with second- and thirdhand smoke, it makes sense.
The FWHA board has wrestled with the decision for years because although the apartments are rented and subsidized, they are peoples homes, and board members were reluctant to tell tenants they cannot smoke in their own homes. At the same time, the legal pendulum had swung away from inaction.
The legal impact was on the side that if you dont do something, you have secondhand smoke liability, he said. We didnt take that step lightly. We looked at it first and foremost from the tenants perspective.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no risk-free level of contact with secondhand smoke; even brief exposure can be harmful to health, FWHA officials said.
Secondhand smoke exposure causes an estimated 3,400 lung cancer deaths annually among adult nonsmokers in the United States. It is responsible for up to 15,000 hospitalizations annually of children 18 months and younger in the United States.
Secondhand smoke continues to be the third-leading preventable cause of death in this country, killing 1,240 nonsmoking Hoosiers each year, said Amanda Fall, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County. We at Tobacco Free Allen County are so excited to be a part of this important initiative that will safeguard so many from this health risk. By eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke in their homes the Fort Wayne Housing Authority is protecting the health of all their residents.
Scales said it is important to note that officials are not saying residents cannot smoke or that smokers cannot rent FWHA units.
If they still want to smoke, they can, Scales said. They just cant smoke in the building and have to be away from the common areas. We are not saying you cant smoke.
Scales said the new policy will also be an expensive one. Not only is the agency offering classes to help tenants quit smoking, but also the average $800 cost of turning over apartments will triple for those that have been smoked in.
He said officials estimate that cost will be spread over about four years as apartments slowly change hands.
The move won wide praise from health advocates.
We know from the surgeon generals report that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and the only effective way to eliminate the risk of exposure is to go smoke-free, said Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner. I applaud the Fort Wayne Housing Authority for taking this important step in adopting a smoke-free policy, and for providing smoking cessation classes and other resources to help tenants who wish to quit.