Local initiative encourages properties to become smoke-free

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Don Laman, like any other person, spends his afternoons relaxing at his apartment.

"I was just looking for a reasonable place to live for my income," he said, of Riverview Tower Apartments.

And like Alan Koss, he wants clean air to breathe at home.

"I haven't seen anybody smoke or smelled any smoke in the hallways... I like smoke-free stuff," Koss said.

Both Laman and Koss live peacefully at the 500 Grand Avenue apartments, which Koss attributes to its smoke-free policy.

"I can't stand cigarette smoke to begin with. It just, you know, bothers me," he said.

But, it used to be a habit.

"It's been 22 years since I quit," he recalls, "and actually the smoke really bothers you more than I suppose a normal person."

"You don't realize how much that odor of smoke you carry and how much you're affecting your grand kids or your wife that doesn't smoke," Koss added.

A sentiment Samantha Rublee says is echoed by the majority of those who rent where smoking is allowed.

"72% of tenants who live in apartments where smoking is allowed would prefer to live in a non-smoking building," she said.

Rublee is a public health educator working to help area landlords in Portage, Wood and Marathon counties make their properties smoke-free. Marathon county currently has 350 smoke-free properties. That's about 5,000 units.

"it is popular and it is gaining interest, which is good," Rublee.

Clear Gains is an smoke-free housing initiative under the Central Wisconsin Tobacco Free Coalition, that encourages property owners to assign designated smoking areas outside of the building.

"It is completely legal for landlords to adopt smoke-free policies, some landlords may not know that," Rublee explained.

"Smoke-free multi-unit housing helps to protect the property as well as the health of the residents. There's also less risk for fire damage," she added.

Wausau Battalion Chief, Jeremy Kopp, says he can recall at least three cigarette-related fires he's responded to this year, but cannot recall the last time one of those was at the scene of a smoke-free living community.

"There's always a risk with smoking for people, especially if they're not disposing of their cigarette butts or they're keeping a large can, or they're keeping it in a can that's not flame proof, and not emptying their ash trays," he said.

"Sometimes smokers can feel attacked and like we're trying to push them out of their houses and that's not at all what we're trying to do. We're just trying to create a healthy, inclusive environment for everyone," Rublee said.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently proposed a rule that would require every public housing agency in the country to implement a smoke-free policy. A mandate that parallels Clear Gain's initiative.

Rublee says secondhand smoke lingers and can travel through vents, potentially affecting an entire unit, and that secondhand smoke can cause a lot of health issues including asthma and other respiratory diseases in children.

"We really empower the tenants too to also hold each other accountable and help their property manager with enforcement," she said.

"I love the fact that if you do get caught smoking... It means you're gone," said Koss.

Laman says cigarette's have never affected him much.

"I've never smoked in my life."

But for Koss., finding a smoke-free residence was a priority, and he admits his former self would have felt differently

"I wouldn't have been happy here."

Now, after five months in his new home, a smoke-free living environment suits him just fine.

"i like being here. Smoke free."

For more information on the HUD's proposal, click here.

And for more on how you can list your property as smoke-free, click here to visit Clear Gains Wisconsin's website.