Smoking May Be Banned in Public Housing

Christine Rousselle
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Posted: Nov 12, 2015 5:30 PM
Smoking May Be Banned in Public Housing

While many public housing buildings are already smoke-free, this policy may go national. It was announced on Thursday that a new ban on smoking in public housing is being considered. A ban on smoking would make cleaning and maintaining units far easier and cheaper, in addition to lowering fire risks.

Smoking would be prohibited in public housing homes nationwide under a proposed federal rule announced on Thursday, a move that would affect nearly one million households and open the latest front in the long-running campaign to curb unwanted exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.

The ban, by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, would also require that common areas and administrative offices on public housing property be smoke-free.

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The impact of the prohibition would be felt most heavily by the New York City Housing Authority, which is known as Nycha and houses more than 400,000 people in about 178,000 apartments. Though it is the largest public housing agency in the country, it has lagged behind many of its smaller counterparts in adopting smoke-free policies.

Since the federal government began to press for smoking bans in public housing in 2009, more than 600 agencies encompassing over 200,000 households have voluntarily barred indoor smoking. In moving to require the prohibitions across the country, federal officials say they are acting to protect residents from secondhand smoke, which can travel through walls and under doors; to reduce the risk of fires; and to lower building maintenance costs.

The ban would likely not extend to e-cigarettes, which emit water vapor instead of smoke.

While I'm in favor of anything that restricts secondhand smoke exposure to children, this policy seems like it's going to be a tricky one to enforce. A person who pays rent in a building--any building--doesn't own the space, and is thus subject to the rules of the lease. I don't think there's anything inherently unfair about prohibiting smoking, but I question how this is going to be enforced.