PORTLAND — Starting in July, Karen Allen won’t be allowed to smoke her Marlboro Lights in her apartment in Harbor Terrace — public housing that she sees as her own home.

The Portland Housing Authority has decided to make the 1,000 apartments it manages smoke-free. It is one of the last of Maine’s 24 public housing authorities to make the change.

The ban comes as a relief to many residents, who object to the smell and health effects of secondhand smoke. But tenants like Allen aren’t happy about it.

“The ones that don’t smoke, they don’t like having smoking,” she said, “but when you’re in your own apartment, it shouldn’t bother anybody else.”

The driving force behind the change is the health effects of secondhand smoke, said Mark Adelson, executive director of the Portland Housing Authority. “We have a lot of people with disabilities that are already affected with respiratory problems,” he said.

Al Thayer, who lives in Franklin Towers, started smoking when he was 11 and cigarettes cost 15 cents a pack. He favors the ban. He’s now pushing 76, and he and his wife quit smoking 40 years ago. “That’s the reason we’re not walking around with oxygen bottles,” Thayer said.

“People can smoke in their apartment here, but if the door’s open, it’s in the hallways,” he said.

About 70 percent of the housing authority’s tenants are nonsmokers, Adelson said, but those who smoke have been very vocal.

“People feel it’s their right to be able to smoke in their homes,” he said. “Most of them misunderstand the fact they don’t have a legal right to smoke in their homes. Smokers are not a protected class.”

The authority’s commissioners voted Oct. 7 to make its properties smoke-free by July 1. Adelson said tenants won’t have to quit, but the authority will offer smoking cessation programs to help those who want to try.

Walter Cram is in that group. He smokes, but he doesn’t object to the ban because he has been meaning to quit.

The housing authority — Portland’s largest landlord — says the change will reduce maintenance associated with smoke-stained walls and cigarette burns on furniture and floors. Adelson said an apartment whose tenant smokes for years might need two coats of paint and extra cleaning when the tenant moves out.

In 2004, the Auburn Housing Authority became the first housing authority in Maine and the third in the country to ban smoking, said Executive Director Richard Whiting.

It initially exempted the tenants it had at the time, but incoming tenants who wanted to smoke complained about fairness, so a full ban was instituted in 2007, he said.

“We have a few scofflaws and we have to chase after them,” said Whiting, whose agency manages 422 units. The only housing authority in Maine that doesn’t restrict smoking is in Van Buren, he said.

Compliance with Portland’s ban will be most difficult for tenants in the multistory apartment buildings, Adelson said. It’s easier for residents to step outside of garden-style apartments to smoke.

Even after the ban takes effect next summer, Allen said, she plans to keep on smoking in her apartment.

That could land her in hot water. Adelson said smoking in the buildings will be a violation of the terms of the lease. The authority plans to be accommodating at first, but if people insist on flouting the rules, it could jeopardize their ability to stay, he said.

Sharon MacKinnon is a smoker who empathizes with those who oppose it. She dislikes the smell of smoke, and usually goes outside of Harbor Terrace to have a cigarette. She feels the ban is a healthy decision, though a hard one for smokers who use a walker or wheelchair.

MacKinnon said people’s willingness to abide by the ban might depend on what shelter the authority creates for smoking areas.

The authority has taken interim steps, such as trying separate floors for smokers and nonsmokers. But demand for nonsmoking units outstrips the number available.

“Our residents need housing very badly,” Adelson said. “They might even agree to go to a smoking floor even if it’s not in their best interest.”

The authority manages 574 family apartments and 418 apartments for seniors and people with disabilities.

The ban will not affect the 2,000 people who receive rental subsidies under the Section 8 program and live in privately owned properties.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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