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First day of smoking ban drives Manchester's housing residents outdoors to light up

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 01. 2014 8:02PM

Bob Blondeau, a resident of the O'Malley high-rise in downtown Manchester, smokes outside the apartment complex on Thursday, the first day of an indoor smoking ban at Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority apartments. (MARK HAYWARD / UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — In winter coats and hats, residents of public housing apartments ventured outside to smoke cigarettes Thursday, the first day of an indoor smoking ban that covers the 1,400 apartments managed by the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Sentiments ran the gamut. One smoker said the ban makes him consider quitting altogether. Others said they should have the right to smoke in their own homes.

All complained about the steady morning rain and said the housing authority should provide a smoking shelter, something the executive director has ruled out.

Christine Carroll said about 10 people where outside the Burns high-rise at 5:30 a.m., getting drenched while smoking.

“I hate it,” she said about the ban. “There’s nothing you can do to stay dry.”

“I hate it,” said William E. Davis, 70, who by noon had gone outside four times to smoke a cigarette outside the Kalivas high-rise. “I’ve been smoking for 50 years, for Chrissake. All of a sudden they’re going to take it away from me?”

The new regulations prohibit smoking inside individual apartments. Hallways and communal areas such as activity rooms have been smoke free and remain so.

The new rules prohibit smoking on balconies and within 25 feet of apartment complex entrances. The new regulations make no mention of e-cigarettes, so they are permissible, according to Dick Dunfey, executive director of the housing authority.

Michael Bergeron, a resident of the Burns high-rise, said most nonsmokers are happy to see the ban go into effect.

“I’ve got asthma problems, so I’m glad,” he said.

According to the New Hampshire Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, only three of the state’s 15 public housing agencies still allow smoking in individual apartments — Nashua, Concord and Somersworth.

Since 2012, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has urged local housing authorities to ban indoor smoking, said Donna Fleming, administrator of the tobacco prevention program.

Many people who live in public housing have serious health problems, she said.

“It just makes it very difficult when there’s a single ventilation system. The smoke goes from one apartment to another,” Fleming said.

For smokers driven outside, some apartment complexes are more equal than others.

At the O’Malley high-rise, a square, metal-mesh table is outside the 25-foot no-smoking zone. It has accompanying seats and a canopy. A sidewalk that hugs the building probably has a spot or two that is 25 feet from the rear entrance, and it’s beneath an overhang to boot.

At the Burns, however, an outdoor patio and most benches are too close to entrances and can’t be used by smokers. Several lit up in the parking lot Thursday morning. Carroll, who has been in an electric wheelchair since suffering a traumatic brain injury, said the only benches deemed acceptable for smoking are on the lawn, and her wheelchair would sink into the wet ground.

The only benches at the Pariseau high-rise are right outside the door.

At Kalivas, smokers can only use a lawn picnic table, and it has no shelter.

At O’Malley, Bob Blondeau, 62, said he would have preferred to see smoking rights remain for existing residents. And he’d like to see a shelter. But the tenant of three years said he sees himself as a guest, and he has to go by the rules.

Although he’s smoked for 45 years, he said it may be time to give it up. He has a nicotine patch in his apartment.

“It’s going to be very hard,” he said. “It’s a matter of putting it on and going for it.”

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