smoke-free public housing

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JEFFERSON CITY — Several mid-Missouri housing authorities will soon be changing their rules on smoking inside or near public housing. 

This comes after the federal government approved a final rule prohibiting smoking in public housing developments nationwide. 

The new rule bans smoking inside housing units and within 25 feet of any housing developments. Local housing authorities were given 18 months to meet these guidelines. 

Many housing authorities across the country have already chosen to go smoke free, including the Columbia Housing Authority. However, in Fulton and Jefferson City, public housing tenants can still smoke inside their individual units. 

The Jefferson City Housing Authority oversees several different types of housing, including senior living, but public housing will be the only area forced to go smoke free. 

Executive Director Cynthia Quetsch said she doesn't expect everyone to be happy about the change. 

"That will be an adjustment for people, because they feel like it's their home," Quetsch said. 

However, when it comes to enforcement, she said those who want a smoke-free environment could be the housing authority's biggest allies. 

"There are public housing authorities who have already gone smoke free, and they say their biggest way of discovering it is tenants," Quetsch said. "Other tenants who want to have the benefit of smoke-free living, and don't want to have to worry about secondhand smoke." 

In Fulton, tenants who signed up for public housing after 2012 are prohibited from smoking, while those who were grandfathered in are still able to smoke. 

However, Anne Johnson, executive director of the Fulton Housing Authority, said right now there is no real enforcement of the smoke-free rule. 

"We also don't have a punishment, or don't have consequences when people are caught smoking at this point in time," Johnson said. 

The new federal rule requires enforcement, meaning local authorities will have to create consequences for any violations of the rule. Johnson said this enforcement would be one of the more difficult parts of the switch.

"It is a lease violation, but what is a lease violation? Is it a warning the first time? Is it a money fine, or could it be termination?" 

However, Johnson said the authority plans to speak with tenants directly to find solutions that benefit everyone.

"It seems natural to have them involved in this part of the process," Johnson said. "It affects them." 

According to NBC News, The Department of Housing and Urban Development has been encouraging local public agencies to enact smoking bans, and some 228,000 public housing units were already smoke free. The new rule will expand the impact to more than 940,000 units.