By Laura McCrystal
The Montgomery County Housing Authority has become the latest public housing agency to ban smoking.
Starting July 1, the ban takes affects on its 616 units countywide, executive director Joel Johnson announced at a county commissioners meeting Thursday.
The policy prohibits smoking indoors but allows residents to smoke outside at least 25 feet away from buildings. It mirrors bans in Philadelphia and Chester County and a broader effort in public housing nationwide. In November, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it will require all federally subsidized housing authorities to implement non-smoking policies in the next several years.
Johnson explained Montgomery County's new policy during a meeting at which the commissioners passed an ordinance banning smoking at all county parks, trails, and historic sites. Both moves, the commissioners said, are a step to promote health and protect residents from second-hand smoke.
Johnson said the housing authority has received "enormous amounts of complaints on a regular basis" about smoke spreading through hallways and into ventilation systems. About 30 percent of its residents are smokers, he said.
The agency board approved the new policy in March, and started to offer free smoking cessation classes to residents.
Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh said she spoke with the housing authority about a potential ban last year. Residents "were pleading with me, actually, to try to make their building smoke free," she said.
Shirley O'Donnell, president of the resident council at Marshall W. Lee Towers in Conshohocken, said she can smell smoke as soon as she enters the elevator in her building. As a non-smoker, she said it is difficult to live in an apartment between two people who smoke in their units.
"I feel sorry for the smokers, I know it's going to be hard for them," she said, adding that health of the other residents is most important.
The new ban on smoking in county parks also prohibits e-cigarettes from all parks and trails. Officials said the ordinance will promote health and reduce litter.
Arkoosh said that ordinance, which takes effect immediately, is consistent with the purpose of county parks: to encourage residents "to get outside and be healthy."