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Washington County Housing Authority smoking ban starts today

| Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Washington County Housing Authority turned off the smoking lamps at its housing facilities.

Residents who smoke inside their apartments now risk being eviction.

In the Mid-Mon Valley, the authority operates properties in Bentleyville, California, Donora, Monongahela, New Eagle and North Charleroi.

The authority board approved the ban by unanimous vote at its January meeting.

The decision was made after a resident dropped a burning cigarette that caused a Nov. 20 fire at the Nathan Goff Jr. Apartments in North Charleroi.

"At our last meeting we did have some tenants come to address the board," said board member Tony Menendez. "They voiced their displeasure with the ban, but we're not going to back down from this.

"We did it because we need to be concerned about the safety of everybody, the smokers and the nonsmokers."

Menendez said the board is aware the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does not carry insurance to cover a residents' property.

"When we had that fire, not only was there a chance that someone could have lost their life, but a lot of people lost their personal property. HUD doesn't cover their furniture or their televisions."

Menendez said the smoking ban was the right solution and emphasized that residents can smoke outside of their buildings, "as long as they're not right in front of the door or entranceways."

Menendez vowed that the authority will strictly enforce the ban.

"If a resident is caught smoking, there is a form that will be mailed to them that they'll have to sign and send back acknowledging the violation," Menendez said. "Trust me, if a resident is smoking, their neighbors will make us aware of it.

"Hopefully, they'll realize that we did this for everyone's safety."

Washington County is not the first local county to limit smoking, but it is the first to ban it altogether.

The Westmoreland County Housing Authority has a limited ban.

"About four or five years ago, we did put a smoking ban in place in common areas," said Michael Washowich, Westmoreland County Housing Authority executive director.

Washowich said he is aware of total smoking bans.

"Three to 5 percent of housing authorities across the country have implemented such bans," he said. "It's just something that I think we would need to research a lot more, especially when it comes to enforcement."

Westgate and Eastgate manors, as well as Valley Manor, in Monessen, are managed by the Westmoreland authority.

The Belle Vernon Apartments and Marion Villa, in the Arnold City section of Washington Township, are run by the Fayette County Housing Authority.

Like Westmoreland, the Fayette authority has banned smoking in public areas.

Fayette County Housing Authority Executive Director Thomas Harkless said Washington County may be the first in the state to have an all-out ban.

Ronald Marozza, who lives in Monongahela Manor in Monongahela, doesn't smoke but disagrees with the ban.

"They shouldn't ban it because of something one person did," Marozza said. "They shouldn't blame all the residents."

Bill Jones, who also resides in Monongahela Manor, said he's in favor of the ban.

"There's one woman here who already lit a garbage can full of paper on fire with a lit cigarette," Jones said. "Why wait for something bad to happen."

Monongahela Manor has a gazebo on property where residents can smoke.

"You can tell where people have been smoking; they throw their butts all around over there. I can see not letting them do it in the building."

Carol Kirlin, whose floor in the Nathan Goff Apartments was heavily damaged in the November blaze.

She said residents should be allowed to smoke in their own apartments, "unless they have a medical issue, such as dementia, or something like that.

"Those situations should be different. They should be banned from smoking," Kirlin said.

As for the rest of resident, Kirlin said, "It should be OK if someone wants to smoke in their own apartment."

One Nathan Goff Apartment resident who requested anonymity, said that by the end of the month he will be in a new place. He doesn't think it's right for the authority to take away his right to smoke.

"I'm a smoker. If I had my way, I'd have been out by tomorrow, but some things came up," the man said. "I'll be out by March 31, though."

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