Montco bans smoking in parks, public housing

    (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    The air in Montgomery County just got a little bit clearer.

    At Tuesday’s county commissioners meeting, officials announced restrictions on lighting tobacco products in two separate arenas: the county’s 6,000 acres of public parks and its 616 public housing units.

    Starting immediately, the county has banned smoking tobacco and e-cigarettes in all parks, public trails and historic sites.

    Commissioner Val Arkoosh said the ban is meant to encourage healthy habits where people already go to exercise.

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    “When you look at the people who use our Montgomery County parks and trails, there are many, many families with children,” she said. “We want to send the message to everyone … not to smoke.”

    Rangers will ask smokers to extinguish their cigars or cigarettes, but will not be able. If problems persist, rangers could call municipal police to issue a citation with a fine of up to $200.

    A cloud of smoke will soon be lifting indoors as well, with a ban on smoking tobacco  across Montgomery County’s public housing.

    Joel Johnson, executive director of the Montgomery County Housing Authority, said the ban beginning July 1 is in line with a national push to eliminate smoking across all 3,100 housing authorities.

    According to the proposal from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, benefits include reducing public health impacts of first- and second-hand smoke, as well as a reduced “risk of catastrophic fires.” 

    “There’s additional benefits from a cost perspective for the housing authority because it’s less expensive for us to make ready a unit that a non-smoker has lived in as opposed to a smoker,” said Johnson. The housing authority saves as much as 25 percent of the cost of turning over a unit when the previous tenant didn’t smoke, he said.

    The ban will cover all indoor spaces — residences and administrative areas — as well as up to 25 feet away from the housing authority buildings.

    About a 30 percent of Montgomery County Housing Authority residents use tobacco and will be encouraged to quit, said Johnson. He said the Housing Authority will use a “three-strike” approach if residents violate the ban, “progressing from a written warning, coupled with cessation education and finally ending with the possibility of termination if folks continue to smoke inside their apartment or town home.”

    The Clean Air Council will provide free nicotine gum, patches and information about smoking cessation to residents across the housing authority’s units.

    Johnson said he expects the new policy to play well with the majority of residents who are tobacco-free.

    “Perhaps not surprisingly,” he said, “many of the non-smokers have welcomed this with open arms.”

    Montgomery County joins Chester County and Philadelphia housing authorities in rolling out the ban.

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