Betty A. Smith had become accustomed to holding a tissue over her
to combat the secondhand smoke that would infiltrate her apartment.
After years of raising concerns, the 83-year-old
survivor and former smoker has literally found herself breathing more easily now.
On Sunday, seven
-owned senior public housing complexes, including Warren Manor in Gurnee, where Smith has lived for more than 20 years, went smoke-free.
"She was being hurt and harmed physically because of the people smoking in her apartment complex," said David Northern, the Lake County Housing Authority's executive director. "We stepped up in order to protect our residents."
With remaining county-owned public housing scheduled to fall under the ban on May 1, 2012,
's housing authority has become the largest in
to outlaw smoking throughout entire buildings, including tenants' own apartments, Northern said.
The new rule is rooted in the concept that everyone has the right to breathe clean, safe air. According to a survey of Housing Authority residents in December 2008, 44 percent of those who do not allow smoking in their homes reported that tobacco smoke still drifted inside.
That's what prompted Smith to contact state lawmakers and housing officials about banning smoking inside the complex. She said smoke from neighbors seeped into her apartment regularly. The smell lingered to the point that visitors would complain.
"In my day, when I started smoking, they didn't tell you it was bad for the lungs," said Smith, who quit her 2 1/2-pack-a-day habit in 1996 and learned she had a lung tumor about two years later. "I don't want anyone to suffer like I've suffered."
Comparing the smoking ban to a no-pet policy, Northern said the agency is "really proud to say we're making these steps to protect a class of residents."
It's not a trend spreading rapidly to nearby housing authorities, however.
The DuPage Housing Authority does not own any public housing, so a smoking ban isn't an option there, an official said.
The Housing Authority of Cook County has not prohibited smoking, and the issue is not under consideration right now, spokeswoman Avis LaVelle said.
does not have a smoking ban in its traditional public housing. But four authority buildings do have a nonsmoking component, said spokesman Matthew Aguilar.
Two rehabbed senior buildings, including one that isn't occupied yet, have smoke-free policies that extend to the inside of residents' units, as do two relatively new mixed-income communities, Aguilar said. At one complex, smokers who lived there before the ban took effect in 2010 are still allowed to smoke inside their homes.
No such reprieve was given to Lake County public housing residents who smoke, such as Sharon Eddington.
Eddington has lived at Shiloh Towers in
for about 10 years. She said she never smoked in common areas, only in her apartment, and never heard any complaints from neighbors.
"When I moved here … I was well aware I could smoke here, or I wouldn't be living here," she said. "I'm not doing anything against rules that were set up when I came here."
Eddington, 67, said she thinks the complex has more pressing problems, such as crime and vandalism, than with people smoking, and believes she should be able to smoke in her own home if she chooses.
The Housing Authority has worked with the Lake County Health Department since 2008 to help establish the ban, educate people about it and offer help to those who want to
, said community health specialist Barbara de Nekker.
The Health Department developed and tabulated the public housing survey, which also established where public housing residents stand on smoking and the ban, she said.
According to the survey, of which 38 percent were returned, 81 percent of the residents don't smoke and 55 percent favor smoke-free buildings.
To help the community make the transition, the Health Department helped design posters and postcards to let residents know what was happening, de Nekker said.
The management team reported that about a dozen residents have quit smoking in anticipation of the ban, Northern said.
In addition to Shiloh Towers and Warren Manor, the smoking ban took effect Sunday at Hawley Manor in
, Kuester Manor in
, Millview and Orchard manors in
, and Beach Haven Towers in Round Lake Beach. Next May, Marion Jones Townhomes in North
, along with single-family units and all other public housing properties, will adopt the smoke-free policy.
First-time violators will be fined $100, and the fine will rise to $300 for second violations, according to the Housing Authority. Third-time violators will face termination from the program and be required to pay for areas affected by the smoking to be painted and cleaned.
Residents, visitors and staff still are allowed to smoke outside when located at least 20 feet away from the buildings.
In addition to limiting exposure to secondhand smoke, the smoke-free policy will reduce the cost to clean apartments as well as fire hazards, Northern said.
Another Warren Manor resident who supports the ban, Barbara Luxon, 85, noted that the fire risk was heightened because some residents also use oxygen tanks to help them breathe.
Within the past three years, there was one smoking-related fire at a Lake County Housing Authority apartment, Northern said. A staff member who ran in to help a resident ended up in the intensive care unit and still suffers from his injuries.
Although Lake County Housing Authority's smoke-free housing is a progressive move within the public housing spectrum, it is nothing new in some areas of the private sector.
Sunrise Senior Living in Buffalo Grove, for example, banned smoking inside individual units several years ago, said Erika Reinhardt, director of community relations. Even a remaining "smoking room" was eliminated within the last three years.
"It is pretty common," she said. "I'm trying to think if I know of any (senior living) community that still allows smoking."
Friendship Village of Schaumburg moved to a smoke-free campus in 2008, said Patricia Mash, vice president of planning and marketing.
Residents who lived there before the switchover are still allowed to smoke in their homes but nowhere else on the grounds, she said. Only a few smokers remain there.
"We don't allow any other open flame," Mash said. Residents aren't even allowed to light candles.
There are also numerous complexes for the public that don't allow smoking. Anyone in the state looking for smoke-free housing can check for available apartments and town houses with such a policy at
People living in multiunit buildings near tenants who smoke cannot escape secondhand smoke, which has the same health effects on an individual as smoking itself, de Nekker said.
"This is their home," she said. "This is where they eat. This is where they sleep. This is where they live."