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SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — A ruling from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has banned the use of tobacco products inside public housing.
The rule, which went into effect on July 30, prohibits HUD residents from smoking in their apartments, on balconies, or in common areas like hallways and laundry rooms. It also requires tenants to smoke at a minimum of 25 feet away from their buildings when outside.
The tobacco products listed include cigarettes, cigars, pipes and water-pipes—also known as hookahs.
Public housing agencies had 18 months to adopt a smoke-free policy. However, two housing authorities in Sullivan County committed to a policy prior to the mandatory starting-date. Woodridge Housing Authority has been smoke-free since September of 2016, and Monticello Housing Authority went smoke-free in April of this year.
Both have received assistance from Tobacco Free Action Communities (TFAC), a program serving Sullivan, Ulster and Dutchess counties. TFAC is a partner in statewide effort to make New York tobacco-free. To facilitate implementation of the HUD ruling, TFAC has been holding smoke-free kick-off days, educating people on the new rules and helping housing authorities to adopt new policies.
Although a ruling like this has the potential to upset residents, there is reason to believe that most will be supportive. According to a survey conducted by TFAC, the large majority of respondents preferred to live where smoking was either totally banned or only allowed outside.
HUD has been adamant about the fact that this is a non-discriminatory policy. “You’re not telling people they have to quit smoking,” said Lori Rotolo, the community engagement coordinator with TFAC. “You’re just telling them that they can’t smoke indoors anymore… They’re not being told that if they’re smokers they can’t live there.”
Aside from the obvious positive health effects of reducing secondhand smoke, prohibiting tobacco products inside buildings can also reduce the risk of fires as well maintenance costs. Rotolo recalls a housing unit where it cost $8,000 to renovate a single apartment that had serious “third-hand smoke” residue.
TFAC is also trying to inform Sullivan County residents about the range of programs available to help them quit smoking. These include free nicotine replacement therapy patches and smoking cessation support. “A lot of people don’t know what their resources are… and a lot of times even the medical providers don’t know all the resources to refer them to,” Rotolo said.
Rotolo is hopeful that people take advantage of the available programs and use this new ruling as an opportunity to improve their overall health by quitting smoking.
Anne Johansen, executive director of the Monticello Housing Authority, says things have gone smoothly since adopting a smoke-free policy. Since April, when the switch was made, Johansen has only received three complaints, all of which were resolved.
Johansen and Rotolo both hope this measure is part of a broader trend to make Sullivan County a healthier environment to live in. More information about the ruling and smoke-free housing in general can be found at smokefreehousingny.org.