Smoking debate cloudy

Good intent is behind a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development recommendation urging a smoking ban at public housing projects.

However, the reasoning behind the Altoona Housing Authority’s reluctance to implement the suggestion makes sense, as well.

On the issue of smoking, the authority already is acting responsibly to protect the health and well-being of tenants. It is accomplishing that without trampling on the rights of those who choose to smoke.

As long as the authority isn’t risking loss of federal or state money by resisting an all-out smoking ban, the local housing agency shouldn’t feel pressured into making changes that clearly seem unnecessary and an overreaction.

Isolated problems can be addressed without the total smoking ban that the feds advocate. The only question is whether the authority always has been proactive enough in addressing concerns.

A downtown tower resident’s complaint to HUD recently about smelling smoke in her room – an issue that seemingly could have been resolved quickly on the authority level – perhaps has shed light on some need for improvement in the authority’s response mechanism.

The otherwise high quality of the authority’s service should make any shortcomings easy to fix.

As much as the authority must be committed to responding quickly to issues, residents must be willing to acknowledge that some issues necessarily require more time to resolve than others.

Fortunately for those living in the authority’s complexes, the housing agency is supervised and managed by quality individuals dedicated to public housing superiority and excellent resident services. The fact that the authority is balking at a total smoking ban doesn’t denote erosion of the solid foundation upon which the authority operates.

The authority currently allows its residents to smoke in their apartments and outside on project grounds.

Smoking in common areas indoors is prohibited, except for the billiards room at the downtown towers.

Cheryl Johns, authority executive director, was correct that a general smoking ban would be difficult to manage and enforce. Meanwhile, authority member Scott Brown has made the reasonable point that a smoking ban might be tantamount to trespassing on resident privileges.

Residents’ apartments are their homes, he said.

But HUD’s suggested smoking ban – the key word is “suggested” – is built upon good intentions and, as a proposal, doesn’t represent Washington overstepping its bounds.

HUD wasn’t incorrect in reminding housing agencies, including Altoona’s, about the dangers of secondhand smoke and fire dangers associated with smoking. However, even when smoking is allowed, those dangers can be minimized, which the local authority routinely seeks to do.

In the case involving the woman who complained to HUD about smelling smoke in her room, the authority apparently didn’t do all it could have done to quickly address the complaint. At the same time, the authority must be cautious in how it addresses issues, so as not to cause bigger problems.

For now, a smoking ban isn’t a response that the authority and its projects need.