updated 5/10/2010 12:18:10 PM ET 2010-05-10T16:18:10

The St. John the Baptist Parish Housing Authority may become the first in the metro New Orleans area to ban smoking inside the agency's public housing properties.

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends such a policy. Spokeswoman Patricia Campbell said agencies in Logansport, Morgan City and Sabine Parish already have done so.

Officials say it would cut down on secondhand smoke, fire hazards, and maintenance.

"It's better overall for everybody's health, and the cleanliness of the place," said Allen Smith, chairman of the St. John Housing Authority.

The board began discussing the proposal in April.

More than 830 people live in the agency's four housing complexes in Edgard, Garyville, LaPlace and Reserve, as well as Section 8 housing around the parish.

The federal recommendation, made in July 2009, describes smoking as "the No. 1 cause of preventable disease in the United States" and says forbidding it indoors would increase public health protection for residents.

Tenants probably would have to agree to the ban to renew their leases.

"It's going to be kind of hard to detect it, but if you don't smoke, then it's a little bit more obvious," said Gloria Stewart, assistant director of public housing in Sabine Parish, which started restricting smoking inside its units in January.

Since then, maintenance workers have been watching for signs of possible infractions, such as the smell of smoke or an ashtray full of butts.

Smith said she has written to about 10 tenants accused of violating the policy. After a first warning, Stewart said, breaking the rule would end the lease.

Housing officials in St. John plan to meet with tenants in June about the proposal and could decide whether to adopt the regulation in July, said Lawand Johnson, the agency's executive director.

More than three years have passed since the enactment of the Louisiana Smoke-Free Air Act, which prohibited smoking in restaurants and other public places. Customers and owners have largely accepted the ban. Last week, two bills to expand the restrictions to include most bars and casinos were headed to the state Senate floor for more debate.

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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