Smoking Ban Considered in Savannah Public Housing - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

Smoking Ban Considered in Savannah Public Housing

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Breathing in-- and blowing out smoke. Though these Stillwell Towers residents know smoking is bad for their health-- many of them are addicted to cigarettes.
"How long have you been smoking?  Since I was 17.
"30 maybe 35 years"
"Over 40 years."

Sometimes smokers can be found puffing away in designated smoking areas outside like this open air gazebo, but most prefer smoking inside their apartments. 
 It's been allowed since the building opened in 1968 for the elderly, disabled and chronically ill.
But HUD is encouraging housing authorities across the country to prohibit smoking inside public housing.

Army veteran Jenella Pettigrew likes her privacy and enjoys smoking in the comfort of her home.  "I like to smoke in my bedroom where I've got my computer set up and sit there on the computer and smoke." But,  Jenella and neighbors may only be lighting up outside in the future.
Stillwell Towers is on the verge of becoming Savannah's first smoke-free public housing.
That means Jenella would have to come down 14 floors to smoke.

"I think that's terrible really terrible.  We should be able to do whatever we want to in our own apartments." 

Smoker Beverly Furman lives on the 6th floor and says she hates going outside to smoke.

"Sometimes you're not able to get outside because of the weather, and sometimes I hurt so bad I'm not able to go outside. I feel like when I'm in my house If I need a cigarette or whatever I should be able to smoke."
It may seem like a right since they pay rent here, but The Department of Housing and Urban Development calls it a privilege.
Savannah Housing Authority Executive director Earline Davis says she understands this is a sensitive issue, but saving lives matters most.
"It's the secondhand smoke that we are concerned about.  You have a right to smoke, but you don't have a right to infringe on the other person's right to have clean air."
Implementing smoke-free policies would also bring financial benefits.
"When a nonsmoker moves out of a unit it's about $600 to get that unit ready for the next resident. 
When a smoker moves out across the country it's about 36 hundred dollars."
A smoking ban would also reduce the risk of fires.
 There's mixed opinions…these non smokers live in the same building. They hope officials are not just blowing smoke.
"If we could ban it all it would be better because a lot of people would live much longer," says Leonard Hunter.
Still some tenants argue banning smoking is a violation of individual liberties.
"They'd have to change the lease and everything because on our leases it doesn't say you can't smoke in your own apartment," says David Dickey.
"We should have some kind of warning signs something to put on our door to let people know we are smokers you know before they take our rights like that," says Graylen Royal.
"Smokers are not a protected class.  There are no state, federal or local laws that prevent anyone from banning smoking.  It's entirely lawful to do, and it is not a constitutional right," says Earline Davis.
Davis says they will give Stillwell Towers residents a voice-- a chance to clear the air before a nonsmoking ban is adopted, but it's just a matter of time.
"We would hope it would be voluntary, but if we decide to do it and people break the lease just like any other lease violation they would be asked to leave."
Earline Davis says it would be easier to focus on Stillwell Towers first.
We just got an earful about how some residents feel.
Before making any decision they will meet with tenants next month to hear what they think about the idea.
 If a smoking ban is adopted the Housing Authority will work with non smoking groups to counsel smokers.
 smoking cessation classes, nicotine patches, nicorette gum and other alternatives will be provided.


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