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RACINE — Focus on Community workers have spent the past year trying to get apartment managers to commit to making their multi-unit buildings smoke-free.

It hasn’t been an easy task.

“It has been, honestly, very difficult,” said Kayleen Kinsley of Focus on Community, a Racine-based nonprofit that works to prevent substance abuse.

Most of the time, apartment managers don’t call Kinsley back or they immediately say they’re not interested. The ones who listen to her are rare; the ones who make changes even rarer, she said.

Of more than 60 apartment managers Kinsley contacted between December and this month, she said “about two” have decided to go smoke-free, though there could be a few more she doesn’t know about.

Kinsley and Focus on Community suggest smoke-free buildings not only to decrease smoking, she said, but also to cut down on second-hand smoke, which can travel from one apartment to another through cracks, windows, plumbing and air ducts.

Plus, Kinsley said, the risk of fire goes down and it’s much easier, and cheaper, to clean a unit for a new tenant when the old tenant wasn’t a smoker.

Those aren’t enough reasons for most apartment managers, though. Many have told Kinsley enforcement would be too difficult and they don’t want to encroach on their tenants’ rights, she said.

Becky Casper, manager of the 234-unit Lakeshore Village at 4024 N. Main St., falls into that second camp.

“I would not want to restrict my tenants’ ability to smoke in their units,” she said, adding the Focus on Community initiative “sounds vaguely familiar but I would have probably just got off the phone quickly and said, ‘No thanks.’ ”

Focus on Community’s work with apartment managers is funded by a 26-month, $160,000 community transformation grant awarded by the Wisconsin Clearinghouse for Prevention Resources, using federal dollars from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Kinsley, Focus on Community’s Transform Racine County coordinator.

The grant is just about at the halfway point, with the first half focusing on smoke-free apartments and the second half planned to focus on flavored tobacco products, Kinsley said.

“Our big concern is not necessarily that adults choose to use other tobacco products but that kids are attracted to them and become addicted,” she said.

As Kinsley works on that, she said she’ll keep calling apartment managers, too.


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