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New rule bans smoking in all U.S. public housing developments

Dec 1, 2016

Lighting up may become a lot less convenient for smokers who live in public housing.

That's because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a sweeping rule this week that prohibits smoking in all federally subsidized public housing developments in the U.S.

The rule, which takes effect early next year, bans residents in public housing developments from smoking lit tobacco products – cigarettes, cigars or pipes – in all living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices and all outdoor areas within 25 feet of housing and administrative office buildings.

The purpose of the rule is to save public housing agencies money in fire losses, and maintenance and cleaning costs associated with smoking. According to HUD:

HUD's national smoke-free policy will save public housing agencies $153 million every year in repairs and preventable fires, including $94 million in secondhand smoke-related health care, $43 million in renovation of smoking-permitted units, and $16 million in smoking-related fire losses. It is estimated that smoking causes more than 100,000 fires each year nationwide, resulting in more than 500 deaths and nearly a half a billion dollars in direct property damage.

HUD Secretary Julián Castro says the rule will also have positive health implications for the nearly 760,000 kids in the U.S. who live in public housing. He said in a statement:

Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, healthy home free from harmful second-hand cigarette smoke. HUD's smoke-free rule is a reflection of our commitment to using housing as a platform to create healthy communities. By working collaboratively with public housing agencies, HUD's rule will create healthier homes for all of our families and prevent devastating and costly smoking-related fires.

Secondhand smoke causes many health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

HUD will leave enforcement of the policies up to individual public housing authorities and it suggests a graduated enforcement approach that includes escalating warnings with documentation to the tenant file. Castro told The New York Times:

The last thing that we want are evictions. We don’t see this as a policy that is meant to end in a whole lot of evictions. We’re confident that public-housing authority staff can work with residents so that that can be avoided.

While the rule does not ban electronic cigarettes, it does allow individual public housing authorities to prohibit them at their discretion, according to NPR.

Once the rule goes into effect, public housing agencies will have 18 months to get smoke-free policies in place.

You can read the final rule from the Department of Housing and Urban Development here.

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