PONTIAC — The smoking cessation trend in Central Illinois has picked up steam with the Livingston County Housing Authority's decision to make all of its indoor and outdoor properties smoke-free, effective this week.

"Our major motivation was the health of our staff and residents," said housing authority Executive Director DiAnne Witsman. "Secondhand smoke is not a good thing."

In addition, a smoking ban saves money because it costs more to get a unit cleaned if the previous tenant was a smoker, Witsman said.

"This is a wonderful step for them to take to improve the health of residents," said Linda Rhodes of the Livingston County Health Department. Smoking bans create healthier environments where it's easier for people to quit smoking and where it's more likely that children will grow up to be non-smokers, she said.

The housing authority decision affects four properties in Pontiac and one each in Cornell, Odell and Chatsworth that offer public housing for low-income elderly and disabled residents and families, Witsman said. The properties went smoke-free on Monday.

The decision means no smoking of cigarettes, cigars, pipes or electronic nicotine delivery systems. Chewing tobacco is not affected.

Residents signed new leases reflecting the change.

American Lung Association has linked secondhand smoke to increased risks of lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems in adults. In children, secondhand smoke means an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infections, asthma and ear infections.

The housing authority and health department began investigating banning smoking a year ago. The housing authority board approved the smoke-free policy earlier this year.

A survey mailed to the 237 housing authority units was returned by 78 residents, and half of them identified themselves as smokers, Rhodes said. Asked whether they favored some level of smoking restriction, 18 residents said yes, 18 said no and the rest didn't respond to the question, Rhodes said.

The health department has offered smokers resources to help them to quit, Rhodes said.

Meanwhile, Bloomington Housing Authority has offered smoking cessation information from the McLean County Health Department but is not moving to ban smoking at this time, Executive Director Kim Holman-Short said.

"We are in the planning stages of a major renovation," Holman-Short said. "Once we have done that, the timing would work better for us."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Editor for The Pantagraph.

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