Cigarette caused fires encourage Bellevue ban

Posted at 5:57 PM, Sep 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-12 18:57:09-04
A major fire uprooted many lives in Bellevue this summer. 
Change is needed to prevent similar fires, said Don Preister, city council Ward 5.
There was a public hearing Tuesday on whether smoking and grilling should be banned at all Bellevue apartments. 
Several apartment fires in Bellevue were caused by cigarettes or grills.
A fire in July hurt and displaced residents.
Bellevue rules are based on national fire standards.
Those standards exempt cigarettes and grills from fire safety code.
Preister wants to change that so grills are banned, and smoking is banned 15 feet from every Bellevue apartment. 
"Air like this and people (coughing), it's like, please, c'mon, you inhale worse than that every single day in your life,” said Gina Hasse, Bellevue.  
Smoking laws and public perception already make Hasse feel like a second class citizen.
"I’m a respectful smoker, but they need to respect my rights too,” Hasse said. “It's my right to smoke. It's your right not to smoke.” 
While Hasse says it's a good idea to ban smoking inside apartments and on suspended porches, she says banning lit cigarettes from the property goes too far.
If smoking is banned from apartments, Hasse says they should be obligated to have designated areas.
"They provide dog parks,” Hasse said. “They can provide a place for their tenants to smoke.” 
Margaret Stamp manages smoke free apartments in Bellevue.
While she has designated ash trays, Stamp supports stricter rules.
"It would be a great example for other towns in Nebraska to follow suit,” Stamp said. “It would encourage other apartment owners to follow suit even in other towns.”
In light of a number of fires over the summer caused from cigarettes and grills, Stamp says safety trumps tenants who want to smoke inside.
"It’s overall safety and wellness to their life,” Stamp said. “Everyone needs a safe place to call home. It's just a basic necessity.”
While Stamp supports Preister’s plan, she says banning grills will be hard for tenants to accept.
Tuesday’s public hearing is phase two of Preister’s proposal.
It has not been voted on.