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Next year, Charleston public housing to go smoke-free

Post and Courier
Robert Behre

Next year, public housing units across the country are expected to ban smoking in their buildings, if they haven't already, and Lowcountry officials say they're preparing for the change.

In Charleston, state health officials already have been conducting educational programs in public housing complexes on the dangers of smoking, and those meetings have been well attended, Charleston Housing Authority Executive Director Don Cameron said.

"We've not, on the education part, received any push-back," he said.

It's unclear how many residents inside the authority's 1,407 public housing units smoke and would be affected by the ban.

"It's not a question we ask," Cameron said.

The Charleston authority did experiment with a no-smoking policy on a small scale with 12 new public housing units on Reid Street.

"The fears that we had management-wise — that it was going to be a big, giant headache — were not realized," Cameron said.

Once the new rule takes effect, smoking still would be allowed on public housing property, just not in or near its buildings or playgrounds, he said. Even if a resident continued to smoke, the apparent punishment would not be as severe as if they were convicted of possessing or dealing illegal drugs.

Smoking would be a violation of a tenant's lease, but there are many administrative steps to address that violation before a tenant would be evicted.

Cameron, who formerly smoked, said he's aware of cigarette's addictive nature and would want to work with those having trouble with the habit.

“By threatening somebody, you’re not necessarily going to get them to modify their behavior," he said.

This fall, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced its new no-smoking rule would take effect in 2017 for more than 1.2 million households. Local public housing agencies are expected to have until 2018 to approve their own smoke-free policies.

Some local agencies that oversee approximately 200,000 homes already have such policies, according to The New York Times, which quoted HUD Secretary Julián Castro as saying "the last thing that we want are evictions."

While New York has been among the agencies looking to rein in smoking, the issue has not loomed as large here. Gary Scott, director of the North Charleston Housing Authority, said recently that North Charleston hasn't made any moves toward going no-smoking so far.

"It will be a tough challenge for the housing authorities to enforce the new rules," he said.

Across South Carolina, there are few authorities that have moved to restrict smoking. Currently, one of the Spartanburg Housing Authority's properties is scheduled to become smoke-free on Jan. 1, while both the Columbia and York County housing authorities have been working on policies, said Megan Hicks, executive director of the S.C. Tobacco-Free Collaborative.

The collaborative did urge HUD to proceed with the ban, but Hicks said she was disappointed it doesn't extend to e-cigarettes.

"There is not conclusive scientific evidence that the aerosol these devices produce poses no health risk to those who are exposed," she said.

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771 or via Twitter @RobertFBehre.



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A message from our President/Chief Executive Officer:

The Housing Authority of the City of Charleston was born of action on December 18, 1934 by a vote of the Charleston City Council. However, the actual permission for such a "creation" came via statute in the South Carolina General Assembly in March of 1934.

We have come a long way in our society, our City and our personal relationships. Nevertheless, the need for Public housing still exists today. We have so much more to do before we can truly say, the job is done.

Donald J. Cameron
President/Chief Executive Officer
Housing Authority of the City of Charleston