MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Misawa officials will ban smoking in all dormitories and family housing apartment towers on May 1.

And if an additional proposal is approved by the 35th Fighter Wing leadership, some other types of housing also will be designated "smoke-free," according to housing officials.

Wing Vice commander Col. RC Craig said the focus has been "strictly in compliance" with regulations and there is "not a goal to reduce smoking" at Misawa.

"Those who choose to continue smoking will have ample opportunity to do so," he said.

Smokers in affected housing will be required to use designated, neighborhood smoking areas, officials said. Some areas are the required 50 feet from the nearest buildings, but factors such as wind direction mean others will be placed farther away. People living in Tower 220, for example, will have to walk about 660 feet to the nearest smoking area. Some areas will be covered, converted bus stops, but others will be exposed to the elements.

Craig said that when preparing for an inspection late last year, officials discovered that Misawa was not in compliance with an Air Force instruction on tobacco use. The wing formed an operational planning team to address the issue.

Lindsay Buckalew, 35th Fighter Wing exercise physiologist and planning team chairman, said the instruction clearly states that "the rights of the nonsmoker will prevail."

Air Force Instruction 40-102, Tobacco Use in the Air Force, also gives commanders the authority to "designate areas or buildings in dormitories or family housing smoke-free where there is a common air handling unit for multiple individuals or families … to ensure a healthy and safe environment for all residents."

Buckalew said Air Force officials recently banned smoking in dorms on Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

"This isn’t something new to the Air Force," he said.

Misawa will be the only U.S. military base on Okinawa, Japan or South Korea with smoke-free dorms and family housing, officials said. Officials at Osan Air Base, South Korea, say their policy is under review. Air Force and Navy officials on Guam were unable to detail their policies by deadline Tuesday.

Both Craig and Buckalew said the Misawa community had ample opportunity to comment on the proposed changes.

About 20 community members attended a town hall meeting earlier this year to discuss the issue. They were united in a push to restrict smoking, and to do it as quickly as possible, Buckalew said.

"It was a very powerful thing," he said. "They changed policy that night."

Craig said all senior officer housing also will be made smoke-free.

Buckalew said that a major goal was making it an enforceable policy, and that officials will "depend largely on the community" to help identify those breaking the rules.

"Everyone on base is a leader," he said.

Buckalew said officials voted against the idea of a grandfather clause that would have allowed current residents to keep smoking until they moved out of the units.

Smokers who want to move into designated smoking housing can do so at their own expense, according to housing officials.

Buckalew said two-thirds of Misawa’s smokers are E-5 and below, so they’ll be the population most affected. On Misawa, 27 percent of the active-duty troops smoke, officials say. That’s compared to a 25.2 percent rate for Pacific Air Forces and a 23.1 percent for the entire Air Force.

Tech. Sgt. Thomas Luft, a smoker who lives in base housing, echoed what many have told Stars and Stripes in reaction to the policy change: "It’s not a big deal."

Luft doesn’t smoke indoors; he chooses to go outside, just like he’s required to do at work, he said.

But while a 50-foot stroll to a smoking area isn’t bad, more than 600 feet "seems kind of excessive," he said.

Airman Candido Figueroa lives in the dorms, where he said the rule is already being enforced.

"I really don’t care," said Figueroa, a nonsmoker.

He did think that more people would quit smoking, given that they would have to stand outside in the heavy snows of Misawa’s winter to get a nicotine fix.

Senior Airman Anshaunte Nash doesn’t think the change was necessary.

"I don’t see why it’s a problem," she said of smoking in the dorms.

Buckalew stressed that anyone wishing to quit smoking can call the Health and Wellness Center at DSN 226-6550.

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