Falmouth Housing Authority To Ban Smoking

Falmouth Housing Authority will ban smoking inside and outside five public housing properties effective April 1 of this year, the latest change to the culture of cigarette smoking that was once pervasive. It was approved by the board of directors last year.

Executive director Thomas L. Lacey said the ban will go into effect at all the Falmouth Housing Authority multi-dwelling properties. The properties are Harbor View Apartments and Salt Sea Apartments on Scranton Avenue, Choate Lane Apartments, and Tataket Apartments on Teaticket Highway. In total, smoking will be banned in 277 units and on the grounds of those properties.

“We’re not telling people that they can’t smoke, but they can’t smoke on our property,” Mr. Lacey said.

There are two reasons for the smoking ban, Mr. Lacey said, the health of residents and the costs associated with managing smokers’ apartments. Repairing the damage in smokers’ apartments costs two to three times as much as the homes of non-smokers, he said.

“When we looked at the prior 12 months of turnovers, seven of the top 10 most expensive turnovers were smokers,” he said. The costs came from damage from cigarette burns on rugs and furniture and the associated costs of cleaning and replacing fabric filled with smoke odors.

In the event someone does smoke on the property, it will be considered a lease violation and there could be financial penalties, Mr. Lacey said. “My hope and my desire is for nobody to pay a significant penalty,” he said.

There will be no active policing of the policy, but Falmouth Housing Authority will respond to complaints about smoking from other residents.

The ban does not apply to the 25 single-family homes that Falmouth Housing Authority manages, which are spread around Falmouth, he said, because there are no neighbors to disturb.

We’re not telling people that they can’t smoke, but they can’t smoke on our property. 

                                             Thomas Lacey 

Falmouth Housing Authority surveyed residents when the smoking ban was under consideration last year and about half responded. Most viewed the smoking ban as a favorable change, he said. Mr. Lacey said he was surprised that only 8 percent of residents who responded said they were concerned about the policy. Some residents who said they were not concerned about the new rules were smokers themselves, he said.

Some tenants may refuse to comply with the smoking ban, but Mr. Lacey said he hoped to work with them and offer access to smoking cessation programs through the county to help.

Potential Fire Threat

Another issue is the potential for fires caused by cigarettes, he said. One former tenant was a virtual chain-smoker who was also on 24-hour oxygen, Mr. Lacey said, which could have led to an explosion and was a significant safety concern.

In the history of the Falmouth Housing Authority, there have been two fatalities in apartment fires caused by smoking, Mr. Lacey said.

Falmouth will be the latest local housing authority to ban smoking. Mashpee Housing Authority banned smoking on its properties on January 1, and Barnstable banned smoking in 2011.

Robert D. Collett IV, director of the Cape Cod Regional Tobacco Control Program, met with the directors of housing authorities on Cape Cod over the last two years. In an interview with The Mashpee Enterprise last week, he said his message was that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has been urging local housing authorities to ban smoking for at least six years. Many cities and towns are beginning to take action, he said.

The Falmouth Housing Authority smoking ban may also spread into other affordable housing developments in Falmouth.

Currently residents of the 182 units managed by the Falmouth Housing Corporation can smoke in their apartments, but that could change, said executive director Robert H. Murray. “We’re going to be watching the housing authority closely, because I think it’s a good move and if they can implement that successfully, we’ll be right behind it,” he said.

Until 1988, Falmouth Hospital allowed patients to smoke in their rooms “with their doctor’s permission,” and in the hospital cafeteria until 1990.

Mr. Murray, 73, smoked from age 12 to about age 45, he said, and viewed smoking as a personal choice for residents. “I grew up in the era when everybody smoked, so I probably thought that people should be able to smoke in their homes,” he said.

The Falmouth Housing Corporation board of directors would decide whether to implement a smoking ban.

Falmouth Housing Trust executive director Anne C. Saganic said smoking is not allowed inside the Gerald Flynn House, a group home for recovering addicts on Palmer Avenue, but there is smoking on an exterior patio.

The housing trust also offers residents access to smoking cessation plans through Barnstable County, and about half the residents take advantage of that, she said. Others say they are recovering from alcohol and drug addiction and will not quit smoking.

Shift In Social Mores

The culture of cigarette smoking in Falmouth has changed radically over the past 30 years. According to Enterprise archives, in 1984 Friendly’s in Falmouth Plaza was one of the first restaurants in town to offer a non-smoking section.

Until 1988, Falmouth Hospital allowed patients to smoke in their rooms “with their doctor’s permission,” and in the hospital cafeteria until 1990. Now smoking is only allowed outside in designated areas, said spokesman Robin Lord. Some hospitals, such as Children’s Hospital in Boston, have banned smoking anywhere on the hospital grounds.

Falmouth Town Meeting banned smoking in town hall in 1987, but initially town employees did not comply. The Enterprise reported that the next day the ashtrays in the hallways were still filled with cigarette butts. Finally, Falmouth Board of Selectmen banned smoking in Falmouth Town Hall in 1989.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution became a smoke-free workplace in 1992.

In 1999, Falmouth Board of Health banned smoking in restaurants and public workplaces. Longtime board of health member George R. Heufelder said it was an incredibly contentious issue at the time. Restaurant owners felt their business would decline because people would no longer be able to have a cigarette after dinner or at a bar.

As recently as 13 years ago, smoking was considered a problem in the Falmouth Public Schools. In 2000, Falmouth High School received an $8,800 grant to help monitor smoking on school campuses.

Since that time a state law was passed banning smoking anywhere on school grounds, said Superintendent Marc P. Dupuis. The expression “smoking in the boys’ room,” for the most part, no longer applies, he said. “It certainly was an issue, but we’ve made tremendous strides,” he said.

Now, even smoking at Falmouth High School outdoor sporting events is banned and police officers are there to inform people who light up a cigarette. “I think the culture has gradually changed,” Mr. Dupuis said.

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