The Auburn Housing Authority made a radical decision in 2004: new residents moving into its buildings would not be allowed to smoke indoors.
While that doesn't seem like a novel idea today, it was then, and Auburn became the first housing authority in the state, and only the fifth in the U.S., to do so.
It was a bold leadership decision.
Four years later, in 2008, Auburn took the even more extreme step of banning indoor smoking entirely.
Last month, Portland became the 19th public housing authority in Maine to forbid indoor smoking. The final authority that still allows smoking, Van Buren, has passed a policy that will take effect in January of 2012.
Although 250 housing authorities in the U.S. have passed smoke-free policies, Maine is now the first state in the country to protect all of its public housing residents from the toxins in second-hand smoke.
The policies do not require anyone to quit smoking, nor is being a non-smoker a condition for obtaining public housing. The policies simply require people to go outdoors when they light up.
That probably makes a few people unhappy, but surveys show that the overwhelming majority of residents appreciate not having to breathe second-hand smoke.
The policy does more than protect residents' health. All landlords can benefit by forbidding smoking indoors.
"Property owners can save between $500 and $5,000 per unit at turnover," said Tina Harnett Pettingill, chair of the Smoke-Free Housing Coalition of Maine. "Allowing smoking in a building damages and can ruin carpets, laminates, walls, appliances and furniture," she said.
Second-hand smoke aggravates asthma, emphysema and other lung diseases. Meanwhile, it greatly increases the risk of fire and loss of life.
In short, banning smoking in public housing protects the public, it was the right thing to do and Maine was the first state to do it.
Three cheers for us.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.