Altoona Housing Authority drops general ban on smoking

The Altoona Housing Authority has decided for now not to ban smoking throughout its public housing properties, despite the urgings of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and despite a downtown tower resident’s recent complaint to HUD about smelling smoke in her room.

It may be better to wait and see the outcome of possible lawsuits, solicitor Terressa George told board members at a recent meeting.

Otherwise, the authority might end up getting sued itself, George said.

Multiple HUD notices over several years “strongly” encourage authorities to adopt smoke-free policies to help prevent health problems triggered by smoke – especially secondhand smoke, which causes an estimated 50,000 deaths in adult nonsmokers annually, as well as disease and death in children, according to a notice published in May 2012, which cites a 2006 Surgeon General’s report.

Secondhand smoke is especially problematic for youngsters, senior residents and those with chronic problems like asthma and cardiovascular disease, according to the notice.

A smoking ban would also reduce the chance of fire, as smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths in multi-family buildings, accounting for 26 percent of those, according to the notice.

Currently, the authority allows public housing residents to smoke in their apartments and outside on the grounds, according to Executive Director Cheryl Johns. It prohibits smoking in common areas indoors, except for the billiards room at the downtown towers.

A general ban would be “hard to manage and enforce,” Johns wrote in a memo.

She’s spoken to executive directors of other public housing authorities that have put bans in place, “but it is fairly new yet to determine any outcomes,” she wrote.

Authority board member Scott Brown suggested a smoking ban could trespass on resident privileges.

“I look at [their apartments] as their home[s],” he said.

“I have not made this a priority,” Johns wrote.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.