Bristol's Housing Authority has decided its facilities will go smoke-free on July 1. Housing Authority Director Mitzy Rowe told the Troubleshooters the plan was introduced three years ago and it was initially criticized. However, Rowe said the move has since become more accepted.
But not every tenant is onboard. "They're gonna tell us what we can and cannot do inside our homes. What's the next step?," asked tenant Mary Ann Beliveau. Beliveau said she stopped smoking years ago and she knows how difficult it can be to quit. The number of current smokers who will be impacted by the ban is not known. Bristol public housing said it’s never polled tenants on whether they smoke or not. Milford public housing was the first in Connecticut to go 100-percent smoke-free. "People have been exceedingly considerate. We've had a few incidents here and there, but by far over the last two years most people have been compliant, have been good neighbors and they've adhered to the policies," Milford housing director Anthony Vasiliou said. Tenants must sign a no-smoking clause in their leases. "You don't have to think that the person next door who's smoking is gonna start a fire or that when you walk out into the hall you're going to get this smell," Marian Marenna said. Vasiliou said safety concerns and the impact of second-hand smoke impacted the housing authority's decision. Cost was another deciding factor. Vasiliou said the housing authority was spending around $4,000 to prepare a smoker's room for the next tenant. The money pays for new paint and carpet, stain blocker, labor and sometimes new appliances. The anti-smoking group, Match Coalition, supports the bans, which are voluntary decisions by the individual housing authorities. "There is no constitutional right to smoke and putting this into a lease is really no different than having a pet policy," said Dr. Pat Checko of the Match Coalition. Beliveau, however, said she's standing up for tenants in Bristol who can't move around easily or speak for themselves. "They are in their apartments trying to keep themselves happy and if all they've got is their cigarettes and their soap operas, God bless them," Beliveau said. "They should have what they can have." Smokers' Rights Group "NYC Clash" calls the public housing bans an infringement and said it's the next step in creating a smoker-free society. But fighting the bans could be next to impossible. A real estate attorney told the Troubleshooters that landlords can restrict the use of their property as long as it does not change a tenant's existing lease. In Milford's case, the policy was effective in all new leases and phased in to existing leases. "You're not telling them they have to stop smoking, you're telling them you just can't do it in your apartment or you can't do it in the building," Checko said. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development "strongly" encourages the non-smoking policies. Bristol joins a growing list of public housing authorities going smoke-free, including Boston and Springfield. New Haven's public housing authority said it is also exploring the idea.