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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Federal Ban Would Prohibit Smoking In Public Housing

A new proposal is seeking to ban smoking in public housing units across the country. 

All public housing units in the United States may soon be “smoke-free.”

The proposed federal rule announced Thursday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development would affect approximately 1.2 million households nationwide and more than 6,500 units in the city of Los Angeles.

The policy would prohibit smoking inside public housing units, indoor common areas and public housing administrative office buildings. Smoking would also be off-limits in all outdoor areas up to 25 feet from the housing and administrative office buildings.

The proposal seeks “to improve indoor air quality in the housing, benefit the health of public housing residents and PHA staff, reduce the risk of catastrophic fires and lower overall maintenance costs.”

People who live in subsidized or public housing “are especially susceptible to secondhand smoke infiltration between units,” according to a 2014 study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

HUD’s proposed rule would yield an annual cost savings of $153 million, according to data from the CDC. This includes a $94 million reduction in secondhand smoke related health care, a $43 million reduction in property renovation and a $16 million reduction in smoke-attributable fire losses.

Officials like HUD Secretary Julian Castro say the rule would benefit residents’ health. Castro took to social media to express his support for smoke-free public housing.

“Establishing a #SmokeFree rule would improve the health of 2 million public housing residents, including nearly 330,000 seniors,” he tweeted.


HUD Secretary Julian Castro expressed his support for smoke-free public housing via Twitter on Thursday, Nov. 12.
HUD Secretary Julian Castro expressed his support for smoke-free public housing via Twitter on Thursday, Nov. 12.

However, others believe they should be able to light up in their own home.

“If they [HUD] want to ban it, I say the residents should vote on it … whether they want to ban it or not,” public housing resident Roberto Melenderez said. “I believe it’s their right to smoke inside the apartment or not.”

Of the 3,300 housing agencies controlled by HUD, 20 percent have voluntarily prohibited smoking already.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rule by mail or electronically. If finalized, the public housing agencies that have not yet adopted a smoke-free policy would be required to do so within 18 months of the final rule.

The U.S. surgeon general released its first report on smoking and health in 1964. Since the landmark report’s release, research on the adverse health consequences of smoking and tobacco has triggered nationwide efforts to prevent tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

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