The Maneater

Columbia Housing Authority considers banning smoking in public housing

Public housing residents in Columbia may soon no longer be permitted to smoke in their homes.

Growing up with a mother who chain-smoked affected the childhood of Lee Radtke, director of public housing operations for the Columbia Housing Authority.

Though she didn’t realize it until high school, she said she always smelled like smoke and her house reeked of it. She was sick with bronchitis almost every year until she moved away from home.

Radtke said since then, she has been an advocate for smoke-free movements. The CHA recently proposed a policy which could potentially ban residents from smoking in public housing.

“I kind of have a lot of sympathy for people who want to breathe smoke-free air, but I know that it’s asking a lot to ask people to not smoke in their own homes,” Radtke said.

The policy is being considered for three main reasons: to improve residents’ health, fire safety and public housing stock.

Radtke said CHA wants to make the units as smoke-free as possible, especially for residents who have asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or cancer. Although in some units it has made particular floors smoke-free, secondhand smoke can still travel to the other floors.

Radtke said the cost of “turning a unit,” meaning preparing the unit for the next resident, where someone has smoked is about four times higher than a smoke-free unit.

The additional costs come from smoking damage, as well as having to pay workers for a longer period of time. This can add an extra cost of $500 to $1,000, Radtke said.

Additionally, Radtke said a non-smoking policy would provide them potential to obtain a better insurance deal.

The proposed policy is currently only a draft. Within the next three months, residents and the Resident Advisory Board will have a chance to review and help craft the proposed policy.

Radtke said she understands how this policy could upset smokers.

“I think long-term smokers are going to feel quite threatened at the thought of having to change their routines surrounding cigarette smoking,” Radtke said. “We’re not asking anyone to quit, but we are asking people to get up and go outside. We’re trying to be very sensitive to that.”

Radtke said they’re considering installing additional lighting or security cameras to improve the experience of smoking outside for residents. They’re also looking into weatherproofing outdoor areas with buffers from wind.

Some smokers who live in public housing smoke outside already, often to prevent harm to their children, Radtke said.

While CHA is not asking their residents to quit smoking, Radtke said some residents might see this as an opportunity to stop.

In preparation, CHA is working with different agencies in hopes to provide aid to residents who wish to stop smoking. They’re also looking into offering counseling.

Graduate student Jenna Wintemberg worked for a year as a tobacco cessation coach at CHA. She’s a proud supporter of CHA’s proposed policy.

Walking down the hallways, Wintemberg said she would smell smoke everywhere, yet see large “no smoking” signs hanging on the apartment doors of residents with oxygen tanks and other medical conditions.

Wintemberg said she believes policies like this are one of the most effective methods of encouraging people to quit smoking, especially for those wanting to live long-term in public housing.

“Pretty much, at this point, everybody knows that smoking is bad for them, but it’s such a powerful addiction that just that knowledge alone isn’t enough sometimes to help people quit,” Wintemberg said.

After losing her grandfather to lung cancer, Wintemberg became a strong smoke-free advocate. Her father is also currently battling liver and colorectal cancer related to smoking.

Radtke said she thinks CHA’s policy will be completed and ready for the board to vote on by January. However, it may take longer.

“We’re being as flexible as possible about this, because we want the best possible policy and one that the residents have had plenty of time to weigh in on,” Radtke said.

This policy is one of many efforts to limit smoking in Columbia. MU banned smoking on campus and Tobacco 21, a bill proposed by First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick, would ban tobacco use for persons under 21 in Columbia.

CHA is receiving consulting help from Linda Cooperstock, who Radtke said was instrumental in the smoking ordinance for the City of Columbia. She’s also a part of Tobacco Free Missouri Association, which helped with Tobacco 21.

Cooperstock said she commends the various groups in Columbia that have promoted smoke-free environments.

“We will eventually see reduction in heart attack rates (and) hospitalization for myocardial infarction,” Cooperstock said. “This is known to happen in communities that are smoke-free. I think our community is so progressive in certain ways and this is one of them. We set a tremendous example for our state and the country.”

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