Panel passes bill to ban smoking in public housing

(Via Star Advertiser)

House lawmakers are again considering a bill that would ban smoking in all of the state’s public housing units.

“We’re not telling people, ‘You have to stop smoking,'” Hawaii Public Housing Authority Executive Director Hakim Ouan­safi after a recent House Housing Committee hearing on the bill. “We’re just telling them, ‘You have to stop smoking in the taxpayers’ units.’ You can always smoke elsewhere.”

The state came close to enacting a public housing smoking ban in 2012, but the housing agency asked Gov. Neil Abercrombie to veto the bill in order to give it more time to implement a ban as part of its administrative rules, Ouan­safi said.

As the agency moves closer to establishing a smoking ban later this year, Ouan­safi said he wouldn’t be opposed to having it also be state law.

Kalakaua Homes resident Daria Fand wants lawmakers to pass a bill, as does the state Department of Health and the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii, because it would shield residents and children from secondhand smoke. In the past, Fand has described her apartment as “like waking up in a smoky bar” and said her allergic reaction to the secondhand smoke that seeps into her unit can render her bedridden or incapacitated.

Terry Amos, on the other hand, expressed outrage that lawmakers would even consider a measure to ban smoking in public housing.

“I don’t support this, this is ridiculous!” she yelled as her name was being called to testify at a committee hearing.

Amos, delivering passionate testimony, said she is nearly homebound in her Punchbowl Homes unit and enjoys smoking, along with other elderly residents living under similar conditions.

“If (they) want to smoke and it’s all (they) can do and enjoy it, let them do it!” she said. “I should be able to retire and have a great time. The only good time I have is being able to smoke. I’m very angry at this, this is ridiculous. … People in our building are crying to the management companies to please stop the drug dealing that’s going on in our building. Why don’t you start that first instead of going to our smokers?”

Ouansafi said support for a smoking ban is strong among tenants and resident managers, however.

“Every single tenant we have sent surveys (to), and the overwhelming majority want this policy,” he said. “That’s why we asked the governor to veto at the time, because we did not know (how the tenants felt). In fact, we have tenants that are smokers that actually wanted nonsmoking (rules) because of their children.”

Under the current draft of House Bill 2577, a tenant could be evicted following a single act of noncompliance, whereas the administrative rules set to be enacted by the housing agency would allow for three acts of noncompliance with eviction on the fourth.

The authority plans to hold a public hearing on the proposed administrative rule change on Feb. 28 at its headquarters at 1002 N. School St. If the meeting goes smoothly, Ouan­safi said the rule could be implemented before July 1.

The Housing Committee voted to push the bill along in the legislative process, but several members noted reservations about whether the bill would interfere with the housing agency’s rule-making procedure and how it would affect residents.

Rep. Richard Creagan (D, Naalehu-Captain Cook-Keauhou), a Hawaii island physician, said that even though he opposes smoking, he thinks a ban on smoking in public housing would negatively affect vulnerable residents.

“We have people who are addicted to smoking who are mentally ill who need to be housed,” he told Ouan­safi.

Ouansafi said that evicting residents is not the main objective of the ban.

“It is the right thing to do,” he said. “And change is always difficult. If you remember with the airlines it was ‘We’ll die if we don’t smoke’ … but now we can travel 11, 12 hours and there is no smoking in any place.”

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