Woman Smoking

A bill seeking to curb smoking in public housing is being proposed on Beacon Hill. (Sun Chronicle file photo)

Massachusetts is on the way to stubbing out smoking in public housing apartments.

A bill pending in the House would require local housing authorities to designate at least one housing development as smoke-free.

The bill, filed by Rep. Theodore Speliotis, D-Danvers, would also require smaller housing authorities managing fewer than 100 apartments to set aside at least 20 percent of units as non-smoking.

Speliotis' bill has been reported favorably by two House committees and will be read one last time before going before the full House for a vote.

The bill comes amid a general push for non-smoking accommodations in Massachusetts' 45,600 state-funded public housing units.

"The demand was overwhelming from residents," said Andrea Downey, executive director of the Norton Housing Authority.

She said Norton hopes to have totally smoke-free public housing by June 2015.

"(It takes) a lot of preparation, but we're working directly with the Department of Public Health to do that," Downey said.

She declined to comment on Speliotis' proposal.

"We've done everything we can to be in compliance with the state," she said.

Housing authority officials in Attleboro, North Attleboro and Mansfield did not return calls seeking comment.

State law bans residents from smoking in common areas in public housing developments, including lobbies and community rooms. Residents can still smoke in their apartments.

"The impacts of smoking and second-hand smoke are important health issues," Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, said in a statement.

"We encourage housing authorities to adopt smoke-free housing policies in state-aided public housing units to protect the health of residents from second hand smoke, prevent fires and fire-related deaths from smoking, and reduce unit turnover costs."

Under Speliotis' proposal, current tenants would be grandfathered and exempt from the regulations, while vacant apartments would be designated non-smoking.

When Speliotis and state Rep. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, filed a similar bill four years ago, housing officials and local lawmakers told The Sun Chronicle they were concerned that it would infringe on tenants' rights to smoke in their own homes.

"If someone does smoke, I support their right to personal choice," John Zambarano, executive director of the Attleboro Housing Authority, said in 2010.

Matt Sheaff, a housing department spokesman, declined to comment on whether legislation banning smoking would have a larger impact than the state's push toward non-smoking public housing.

"We're encouraging all housing authorities to go smoke-free, and the guidelines (issued to local housing authorities) provide them ways to do that," Sheaff said in an email.

A survey by the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program found that as of August 2013, some 24 housing authorities that serve 50 cities and towns were smoke-free and another 25 housing authorities serving 25 cities and towns were considering going smoke-free.

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