New Federal Rule Outlaws Smoking in Public Housing Developments

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Public housing has, since its inception, been a hotly debated topic, and a new federal regulation is threatening to add fuel to that fire. The Obama administration announced Wednesday that smoking will be no longer be permitted in public housing.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has been pushing for this ban for years. Before this blanket rule, they’d asked local agencies to ban smoking, and close to 228,000 units were already designated as smoke-free.That number will soon expand to 940,00 units.


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The rational behind the ban has many facets. The health effects of smoking are well documented. So, too, are the dangers of secondhand smoke to children. Exposure can increase the risk of asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, even ear infections.

“Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, healthy home free from harmful secondhand cigarette smoke,” HUD Secretary Julián Castro said.


“Protecting people from secondhand smoke saves lives and saves money,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “No level of secondhand smoke exposure is safe, and the home is the primary source of secondhand smoke for children.”


This new regulation prohibits lit tobacco products inside the individual units. It also bans smoking in common areas. Smoking will be banned within 25 feet of residences and offices.


The ban will also have an impact on property damage caused by unintentional fires, burns, and smoke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that this new prohibition will save housing agencies $153 million in repairs, preventable fires and health care costs, annually. $16 million of that number is directly associated with fires caused by smoking.


Supporters of the ban are applauding the ban. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids celebrated HUD’s decision, calling the policy a “bold step.” They noted that the very people who need public housing assistance often have the least consistent health care. They’ve pushed HUD to expand the ban to smokeless tobacco products and electronic cigarettes.


The new rule gives public housing agencies 18 months to implement the ban, which will include informing residents, revising contracts, and providing informative signage. There’s no word yet on what range of penalties would be enacted for violating the policy.