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Quitting smoking may be the top New Year’s resolution for residents of Wilson’s public housing communities this year. Beginning Jan. 1, all Wilson Housing Authority properties will be tobacco-free.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, now requires all public housing developments to adopt a smoke-free environment policy. The Wilson Housing Authority will be in compliance with the federal mandate that all public housing agencies will be smoke-free by July 31, 2018.
“Going smoke-free is not only mandated by HUD but is the right thing to do for our residents and our employees,” said Kelly Vick, president and CEO of the Wilson Housing Authority. “We have heard from numerous residents who complain that they have to breathe in their neighbors’ cigarettes and they have no way to protect their health from unwanted smoke.”
Eddie Bynum, a longtime resident of Tasman Towers, said he didn’t mind smoke for years but it bothers him now.
“I can’t hardly play cards with the other guys because of the smoke,” the 81-year-old said in a Wilson Housing Authority news release. “It will make it a nicer place to live.”
Bynum quit the habit more than a decade ago after smoking for 55 years. He also suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and uses an inhaler.
Since the summer, housing authority staff have been working with public housing residents and employees to prepare them for the change.
Under the new rules, e-cigarettes, vaporizers and smokeless tobacco products like snuff, dip and chew will be banned from all facilities within 25 feet around buildings.
Wilson officials say the smoke-free mandate was designed to create a healthier atmosphere for public housing residents as well as help the housing authority lower its maintenance costs.
Vick said many housing authorities have converted to the tobacco-free policy, including the Goldsboro Housing Authority, whose policy was cited as a model by the N.C. Housing Authority Directors Association.
Currently, there are only a few Wilson Housing units designated as non-smoking.
Vick said the decision to make the housing authority completely tobacco-free was due to public health benefits as well as to eliminate any questions about favoring one type of smoking or tobacco use over another.
“I just thought we should make it easy on everyone to understand,” he said.
The new rules apply to housing authority employees as well.
Going tobacco-free doesn’t mean residents and employees will be prohibited from using tobacco products or vaping, officials said, but they will have to abide by the new policy and not use those products within 25 feet of any housing authority facility, officials said.
Officials said going smoke-free and tobacco-free will keep the facilities in better repair and cut down on annual property maintenance costs. They also said it will cut down on the length of time it takes to clean and repair properties and allow new tenants to move into a unit quicker.
By switching to smoke-free facilities, the Centers for Disease Control estimates $154 million per year in savings in reduced maintenance costs and fire damage for housing authorities.
Anyone who violates the policy will have at least two chances to comply before any penalties kick in.
SMOKING CESSATION RESOURCES
The Wilson Housing Authority teamed up with the Wilson County Health Department to offer smoking cessation resources to residents or employees who want to stop using a tobacco product.
They’ve held three meetings so far for those interested and two more are scheduled for earlier this month.
“Smoking and tobacco use is one of the most preventable causes of disease,” said Wilson County Health Director Teresa Ellen. “We are pleased to be working together to make Wilson a healthier place to live, work and play.”
Ellen said according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette aerosol isn’t harmless.
“It can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances including nicotine, heavy metals like lead, volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing agents,” she said. “In addition, there have been reports of children who ingest the flavored liquid and become poisoned.”
The tobacco-free policy was approved in September by the Wilson Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners, following a public hearing.