public housing smoking

If you live in a public housing complex, it might be wise to put away those cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.

On Wednesday, officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced new regulations that will prohibit smoking in all public housing developments.

The smoke-free rules will be phased in over the next 18 months.

They will affect 940,000 public units that house more than 2 million residents. That includes 760,000 children and 500,000 seniors.

There are 3,100 public housing agencies affected by the new regulations.

“HUD's smoke-free rule is a reflection of our commitment to using housing as a platform to create healthy communities,” HUD Secretary Julian Castro said in a press release.

The goal of the new rules is to protect public housing residents from secondhand smoke and to encourage residents who do smoke to quit.

In a joint statement, officials at the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics praised the smoke-free program.

“Everyone, and especially our nation’s most vulnerable citizens — children, the elderly, and low-income Americans — deserves protection from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke at home and where they live, work, and play,” Harold P. Wimmer, national president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association, said in the statement.

Read more: Public officials launch campaign to reduce smoking in apartments, condominiums »

Details on the rules

Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths a year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The agency lists smoking as the leading preventable cause of death in the country.

CDC officials note that secondhand smoke causes 41,000 of those annual smoking-related deaths.

The U.S. Surgeon General has declared that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke.

HUD officials said people who live in multifamily complexes, such as apartments and condominiums, are particularly vulnerable to secondhand smoke.

They said tobacco smoke seeps through walls, doors, windows, and heating and air conditioning systems.

The only way to protect public housing residents from secondhand smoke is to require smoke-free policies.
Erica Sward, American Lung Association

Since 2009, HUD officials have encouraged public housing agencies to institute smoke-free environments in their complexes.

Since then, more than 600 agencies have implemented no-smoking rules in 228,000 public housing units.

However, health officials say that is not good enough and mandatory rules are needed.

“The only way to protect public housing residents from secondhand smoke is to require smoke-free policies,” Erika Sward, associate vice president for national advocacy for the American Lung Association, told Healthline.

The new HUD rules prohibit lit tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, in all living units, outdoor common areas, administrative offices, and all outdoor areas within 25 feet of housing and office buildings.

Besides saving lives, HUD officials said the regulations will save public housing agencies $153 million in repairs and preventable fires.

In addition, those agencies will save $94 million in public secondhand smoke-related healthcare, $43 million in smoke-related renovations, and $16 million in smoking-related fire losses.

Sward added the rules protect families that don’t have the means to move from an unhealthy, smoke-filled complex.

“That is not a luxury those in public housing can afford,” she said.

Read more: Smokers’ lungs vs. healthy lungs »

Concerns over the rules

There are several concerns surrounding the smoke-free regulations.

One of them is enforcement.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, Castro said HUD plans to work with agencies and residents to educate everyone on the new rules.

He said residents will be warned about smoking violations with the last resort being the person losing their home.

“The last thing we want is evictions,” Castro said.

The last thing we want is evictions.
Julian Castro, Department of Housing and Urban Development

However, some homeless advocates have criticized the program.

In an August article in The Hill, the advocates said the rules could force people from low-income households from their homes if they can’t kick the tobacco habit.

That, in turn, will increase homelessness.

Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democratic congresswoman from California, has also criticized the crackdown.

In a letter to Castro in February, Waters said the regulations would be a punitive measure that doesn’t provide resources or education for people to quit smoking.

On another issue, Sward said her agency and the pediatricians’ organization are disappointed not all federal subsidized housing is included in the new rules. Voucher housing, such as Section 8 units where people get federal assistance to live in private units, are exempt.

Sward added both organizations would also like to see e-cigarettes included in the regulations.

At his press conference, Castro said he is hopeful future research will provide stronger evidence linking e-cigarettes to secondhand smoke dangers, and allow those products to be included in the restrictions.

“We see these rules as a first step,” he said.

Sward and Castro both said they believe the regulations will be enforced when President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.

Sward said she believes the Republican administration will agree that smoke-free environments save lives and money.

“I believe this is a rule that is nonpartisan,” she said.