Sunday, June 16, 2024
Cambridge Housing Authority board chairman James Stockard was obliged to  take additional public comment on a proposed smoking ban Wednesday. (Photo: Mud Hall)

Cambridge Housing Authority board chairman James Stockard was obliged to take additional public comment on a proposed smoking ban Wednesday. (Photo: Mud Hall)

Opponents of a proposed smoking ban in Cambridge public housing filled the boardroom at today’s meeting of the Cambridge Housing Authority while board members heard a summary of public comments on the policy and changes that would soften the impact. The board is scheduled to vote on the ban in two weeks.

About three dozen people attended the meeting, some standing. Many wore orange stickers with the outline of a hand against the symbol for a prohibited activity – a circle with a line through it – and the words “No Ban!”

They were unswayed from opposition by changes that would soften the ban from the original version proposed in May.

The board almost never accepts comments from the public at its meetings, but several people spoke without asking permission at the end of the presentation. “It’s very obvious this is a done deal,” one woman said.

Board chairman James Stockard said he would be willing to hear comments “that haven’t already been made” during the months of public meetings. A man said he had been ejected from a public meeting at LBJ Apartments without being allowed to speak. Stockard said he could submit a comment by e-mail; when the man responded “I don’t have any electronic stuff,” Stockard said he could submit written comments.

Board member Anthony Pini, legislative director for the laborers’ union, told the protesting tenants that even construction trades workers can’t smoke on the job any more. “A lot would love to smoke a cigar,” but developers don’t allow it, he said.

Opposition follows a pattern

The amended policy, which applies to more than 2,500 low-income tenants in Cambridge public housing but not to people in private housing with rent subsidies, would prohibit cigarette smoking in apartments and buildings but allow it in designated outdoor areas. The original ban proposed in May would have outlawed smoking anywhere on CHA property.

Other changes would remove the threat of a $100 fine for repeat violations and postpone the effective date from January to next August. The new proposal also makes it clear that the ban doesn’t apply to e-cigarettes, the electronic devices that deliver a nicotine mist but no smoke.

The audience listened quietly as Sam Cohen, the authority public health intern who helped establish a tenant-manager task force that developed the policy, outlined the rationale for the ban and the changes and described comments at 10 public meetings in CHA developments and written observations delivered to the authority. He also provided details on quit-smoking help that will be available to smokers.

Cohen said about 20 percent of Cambridge public housing tenants smoke and 79 percent  of tenants who answered a survey said they wanted to live in smoke-free housing. But the majority who attended the public meetings and submitted comments opposed the ban, a pattern that other housing authorities have sen when they imposed smoking bans.

Only one board member, tenant representative Victoria Bergland, asked questions about the report. She said she was concerned about the impact of a ban on “those who are fragile and still smoke.” Cohen said the authority would try to assign physically handicapped smokers to first-floor apartments near doors, and authority Executive Director Gregory Russ said anyone could use e-cigarettes in their apartments.