Mutual of Omaha is joining the smoke-free apartment-living movement, adding one of its Midtown Crossing buildings to the smokeless list starting today.
The decision to prohibit smoking at the building that houses the Prairie Life Fitness Center came after surveying residents.
“This policy change is a great way to reduce fire risks that can come from smoking and protect staff and residents from the dangers of secondhand smoke,” said Molly Skold of East Campus Realty, Mutual’s real estate arm.
The Douglas County Health Department and Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition worked with Mutual in providing surveys and other health information to area residents.
Aja Anderson, the county’s community health educator, called the addition of the Midtown Crossing building a “big step,” as it is in a newer development in a thriving area of town. She said many property managers start off designating a smoke-free zone in one or two buildings, then later add more areas.
“Mutual of Omaha’s decision will likely encourage others to join efforts to provide smoke-free living,” Anderson said.
Another highlight, Anderson said, is the addition in January of the Hillsborough Apartments to the smoke-free list.
The complex endured two fires in the last few years as a result of careless smoking. The sites have since been renovated, and sprinklers on decks and patios added.
“Since both fires were the result of cigarette smoke, going smoke-free in these renovated buildings provides another level of protection as well as a healthy option,” manager Shawn Knudsen said.
The county, in coordination with the tobacco action coalition, aims to broaden its smoke-free reach to 129 apartment complexes by September. Currently, 74 complexes in Douglas County have at least one building on site that is designated as a smoke-free zone.
The movement picked up steam in 2012, Anderson said, when the county was granted a federal “community transformation grant” to focus on smoke in apartment complexes. Today, she said, the National Apartment Association ranks Omaha the No. 2 city in the availability of smoke-free options for renters.
While many think walls are a buffer, she said, the reality is that secondhand smoke can drift into other apartments through ventilation systems and cracks in ceilings and floors.
The Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008 protects people from smoke in hallways, entrances and common spaces. The county and the coalition’s efforts provide another layer of protection.