Although smoking is prohibited in bars, restaurants, and most workplaces and public buildings, public housing has been an exception to the rule. But that has been changing. Currently, there are 24 housing authorities in Massachusetts that have gone smoke-free, according to Luciani.
Proposing a smoking ban almost always stirs controversy. A few years ago, the Salem City Council had a heated discussion over a resolution introduced by City Councilor Tom Furey to prohibit smoking in public housing.
During that 2010 debate, one councilor said it was a “basic right” for residents of the Salem Housing Authority to smoke in their own apartments. Others agreed, including at least one official from the Salem Housing Authority.
Housing authority officials either have heard or expect to hear those same arguments again.
“I would say that feeling is still prevalent — that’s it’s their place, their apartment,” said Kevin Ascolillo, executive director of the Beverly Housing Authority. “But secondhand smoke is an issue; it really is.”
In addition to being a health issue, it is a safety concern. Danvers, for example, had a small fire a few years ago in one of its apartments.
There’s also a cost to smoking. Marblehead had to do extensive renovations to an apartment when a chain-smoker moved out.
“It cost us over $10,000,” said Nancy Marcoux, executive director of the Marblehead Housing Authority.
While one local housing authority has fines for violating the smoking ban, another board created incentives to help residents quit.
“We did kind of a carrot approach instead of a stick,” said Cindy Dunn, executive director of the Danvers Housing Authority. “If you quit smoking for six months, we will repaint your unit; and if you quit for a year, we will replace all the carpets.”
The smoke-free movement gained momentum last week when the Patrick Administration issued guidelines for local housing authorities. The guidelines made clear that authorities can’t force residents to quit smoking or limit applications for public housing to nonsmokers, but they can prohibit smoking in publicly funded apartments.
The state also stressed the need for health education and smoking cessation programs to help residents.
Sooner or later, it appears the smoking issue will be taken up by every housing authority on the North Shore, with more and more going smoke-free.
“I think it’s going to be everywhere,” Marcoux said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.