KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The Air Force has banned smoking in all family stairwell housing units at U.S. military bases in the Kaiserslautern area, saying the measure is intended to improve force readiness and the well-being of apartment residents, some of whom have complained of secondhand smoke.

The smoke-free zone not only includes living quarters, but also balconies, patios, stairways, storage areas, community rooms and outdoor common areas that aren’t for smoking.

Grill huts located on the grounds of most stairwell buildings are now the only designated smoking area in the vicinity.

Brig. Gen. Mark Dillon, 86th Airlift Wing commander, directed the policy, which went into effect Jan. 4 and applies to about 900 Air Force and Army families in stairwell units at Ramstein Air Base, Landstuhl and Vogelweh. The Air Force oversees housing in the Kaiserslautern military community.

The ban may be the first of its kind in Air Force family housing in Europe. Karen Leonard, Kaiserslautern’s housing director, said she’s not aware of any other base instituting a similar policy, although many Air Force dormitories in Europe already prohibit smoking indoors. Army housing officials in Europe could not be reached Friday.

Misawa Air Base in northern Japan banned smoking in its dorms and in some family housing nearly two years ago.

“This is not something totally brand-new,” Leonard said, noting that smoking is prohibited in all public buildings on Kaiserslautern military community bases, as well as in dormitories and temporary lodging.

Leonard said the policy is aimed at promoting the health of military members and their families. Dillon is concerned about people being unable to do their jobs due to illness caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, as well as the well-being of families, she said.

Air Force-wide guidance approved in 2002 gives commanders the authority to designate 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.”

The stairwell apartments at Kaiserslautern bases were built in the 1950s and share a common ventilation system, Leonard said.

Some stairwell residents aired complaints about secondhand smoke in the buildings at a series of town hall meetings Dillon began hosting last June. The commander had a smoking survey conducted in early December, the results of which prompted him to issue the ban, Leonard said.

Of 307 people who completed the questionnaire, 36 percent said they were affected “by some level of secondhand smoke,” with balconies cited as the most frequent source, Leonard said. Eighty-six percent of nonsmokers said they noticed secondhand smoke, she added.

Most stairwell facilities have grill huts, Leonard said. A shelter will be built for those that don’t as funds become available, she said.

Stairwell residents are still permitted to barbecue on their balconies, but when using the huts for grilling, rights of the nonsmokers prevail, according to a memorandum signed by Dillon.

Those violating the smoking ban will receive a warning. Continued failure to comply could lead to eviction from base housing, according to Dillon’s memorandum.

The ban does not apply to other family housing units on Kaiserslautern-area bases at this time.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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