King County Housing Authority to start smoking ban
Jackie Brooks has smoked for a half-century and figures she consumes a pack a day inside her Auburn apartment. The 74-year-old doesn't want...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Jackie Brooks has smoked for a half-century and figures she consumes a pack a day inside her Auburn apartment.
The 74-year-old doesn't want to quit and says she has a right to smoke in her own home.
Not anymore. The King County Housing Authority is banning smoking in all units at Plaza 17, the 70-unit apartment complex where Brooks has lived for 14 years.
Following a national trend, the housing authority's board voted Monday for a pilot program that bans smoking entirely in three apartment buildings, 222 units in all. Smoking already is banned in common areas in its housing projects because secondhand smoke is a known cancer-causing toxin. The authority owns and manages some 2,700 units of public housing.
"We're trying to create more options for residents," said authority spokeswoman Rhonda Rosenberg. "We're starting small. When people are used to something for a long time, we don't want to pull the rug out from everybody all at once."
In addition to the Plaza 17 in Auburn, the authority banned smoking at its 70-unit Northridge 1 in Shoreline and its 82-unit Nia Apartments at Greenbridge project under construction in White Center. The ban starts next month.
As they've gotten used to smoke-free bars, restaurants and other public places, some nonsmokers in Washington have asked landlords for relief from secondhand smoke in their apartment buildings. To get a better handle on the scope of the trend, the state Department of Health surveyed landlords across the state last spring to find out which have banned smoking in their rental units and what they've experienced in practice.
"We're getting our share of people asking, 'What are my rights? What can I do about this?' " said Tim Church, a spokesman for the Department of Health. Once the survey results are available, "we plan on sharing that information with health departments as well as owners and groups that manage apartment complexes," he said.
There's a strong national movement to ban smoking entirely, even in privately owned apartments and condominiums, buoyed by the U.S. Surgeon General's report last year that ventilation cannot eliminate the health risks to nonsmokers.
In October, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Smoke-Free Environments Law Project of Michigan hosted a national meeting on initiatives in various states and Canadian provinces to promote such smoke-free housing as the norm.
The Seattle Housing Authority opened its first and only smoke-free property in 2003, the Tri-Court, an 86-unit development in North Seattle. The city isn't planning to expand the smoke-free policy to other buildings for now, according to a spokeswoman.
For those living in King County public housing, a survey last year suggested that residents overwhelmingly favored the idea of banning smoking in apartment units. The authority says it is getting more and more requests from people with asthma or other health issues for smoke-free accommodations.
Residents in the federally subsidized housing must have a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median income — making the limit $41,700 for one person as of last spring. Many of the residents are single parents with children, seniors or persons with disabilities.
Brooks, the smoker at Plaza 17, called the authority's decision rotten and said she intends to move out.
"I've lived here 14 years, and the way I figure it, I have a right to smoke in my own apartment," she said. "If they're going to do this, they ought to do it to the newcomers coming in."
Alice Bruce, 71, Brooks' neighbor across the hall for a dozen years, has heart problems and is glad the authority is banning smoking in her building. She believes years of exposure to secondhand smoke from family members contributed to her cardiac arrest more than a decade ago, and she's still concerned about secondhand smoke.
"I'll be sorry to see her go," Bruce said of her neighbor. "I think the world of Jackie. I still do. I just don't agree with her smoking because of the experiences I had with my own family and smoking."
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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