An apartment complex that allows smoking in and around its premises can often be a deal-breaker for potential tenants who are looking to live in a healthier environment.

In response to numerous complaints about apartment tenants who smoke, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department (SWUPHD) released a Google map in December 2010 that lists the names of nearly 80 multiunit housing properties in Washington, Iron, Kane, Beaver and Garfield counties that don’t allow smoking. The apartments are plotted on the map and listed with additional contact information, said Jordan Mathis, the department’s director of health promotion. 

The SWUPHD is the health department for the five counties included in the map and can’t legally enforce a tobacco policy in apartment properties. So it took a different approach by assisting citizens with finding apartments that are smoking free, Mathis said.

“For the health department to say, ‘There’s really not a whole lot we can do for you,’ was really hard for me personally when [citizens] are wanting to find out what we can do,” he said. “But our hands were a little bit tied by Utah state law by what we could and could not do. And so we really wanted to provide a listing for people to make the best decision for their health.”

Building managers and landlords have the right to restrict smoking in buildings, according to the Utah Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, since smoking isn’t a constitutional right and smokers are not considered a protected group under anti-discrimination laws. Property owners can therefore decide the terms of their building’s tobacco policy.

Cascade Springs Resort Apartments in Iron County is listed on the Google map, but even though smoking is not permitted in the units, it’s still allowed on the premises away from the building, said Erin Dawson, the apartment’s manager.

“I think it would be kind of discriminating to a smoker if you told them you had one policy, to tell someone they cannot smoke on the premises, that being outside in a parking lot,” Dawson said. “That’s why I’m a bit more lenient in saying, ‘Yes, you may smoke, but no you can’t do it in the unit.’”

To acquire the smoking policy status for apartment buildings, the SWUPHD called the office of each apartment building and scheduled an interview with its manager to ask about smoking policies. Mathis said the Google map isn’t a comprehensive list of all apartment buildings in the five counties since some property managers could not be reached.

The department initially thought of the idea in April 2010 and then conducted interviews throughout the summer. The information was then compiled into a database and input into a Google map. It was important for the SWUPHD to not only provide the data, but to provide it in a way that’s more beneficial to citizens, Mathis said.

“We just thought since the world’s going more into interactive type things with Google maps,” he said, “it might be interesting to plot them on there rather than just put a list up.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.