Some Wichita apartment buildings go smoke-free

03/01/2014 10:36 AM

03/02/2014 8:01 AM

Now that smoking is banned in restaurants, businesses and many other public spaces in Kansas, tobacco opponents in Sedgwick County have set their sights on apartment complexes. Only this time, they’re taking a voluntary approach.

Since the Tobacco Free Wichita Coalition launched its smoke-free-housing initiative in 2011, 17 apartment complexes in the county have opted to go smoke-free in at least one of their residential buildings.

“There’s been quite a demand for smoke-free housing,” said Marshall Post, a respiratory therapist and member of the coalition.

Seventeen complexes represents a small percentage of the overall number, but Post said the coalition continues to be contacted by representatives of complexes who have heard about the initiative.

The first complex to go smoke-free was the 194-unit Quarters at Cambridge, 9911 E. 21st St. Its operations manager, John Shaft, said the complex polled residents before making the move and found “the overwhelming majority of our residents were in lockstep with it. We didn’t enter into it inadvisedly.”

The complex management had three reasons for making the move, Shaft said. Medically, it would eliminate the risk of second-hand smoke. Socially, it would “make a statement.”

And financially, it would save the complex a significant amount of money refurbishing apartments that had been rented by smokers.

“When you have to renovate a unit that has been smoked in for a given length of time, you virtually have to strip that unit down and go to the bare walls,” he said. “You repaint everything. You get rid of all your carpets. The labor is intensified dramatically; the materials required to refurbish are quite a bit more.”

Shaft said he doesn’t know why the initiative went over so well with his residents, except to note that many are medical professionals working in the area. Frequently, when people from outside Wichita telephone to inquire about a possible rental, they mention that they’ve seen the complex’s no-smoking policy on its website.

“It’s so nice going into our units, and being able to show a unit that hasn’t been smoked in,” he said.

The complex still allows smoking on patios and in some other outdoor areas, but is considering banning that as well, Shaft said.

The Kansas Indoor Clean Air Act, passed in 2010, forbid smoking in lobbies, hallways and other common indoor areas of multiple-residential facilities along with places of employment, restaurants, bars and taxicabs.

Post said the coalition has no present plans to push for state legislation or a local ordinance covering apartments. Instead, it’s trying to let complex owners know the benefits of going smoke-free and some of the steps to go about doing so, including tenant notification letters and lease addenda. Information is available at tobaccofreewichita.org.

Surveys conducted elsewhere have shown that 85 percent of apartment residents would prefer to live in a smoke-free facility, Post said.

“We’re in the beginning stages of this,” he said. “We just kind of want to see how things go and what the demand is out there. Obviously the demand is growing.”

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