Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been advocating for a smoke-free policy in all of its public housing facilities. In November 2015, HUD issued a proposed rule which would prohibit lit tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, and pipes) in all living units, as well as in indoor common areas in public housing and in Public Housing Administration (PHA) administrative office buildings. The restrictions would also extend to all outdoor areas up to 25 feet from the housing and administrative office buildings. The proposed rule could possibly go into effect at the end of 2016.
This subject was featured in a March, 2016 article in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). It explains that HUD’s reasons for attempting to implement this policy are multifold, including to:
- Improve indoor air quality in the housing facilities
- Increase the health of public housing residents and PHA staff
- Lessen the impact of smoke exposure on the more than 700,000 children who live in public housing
- Reduce the risk and occurrence of catastrophic and fatal fires in PHA buildings
- Lower overall maintenance costs in such facilities
All of this comes at a time when research has shown that public housing residents are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke than the general population, as the smoking rate for individuals 18 and older, and living below the poverty line is at 26 percent, compared with 17 percent of the general adult population. Studies have further shown that tobacco causes an estimated 480,000 deaths a year in the United States, and of these 41,000 are attributable to secondhand smoke exposure among nonsmokers.
The Surgeon General has reported that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. Furthermore, research has also demonstrated that in multi-unit buildings, tobacco smoke easily travels from smokers’ units into the units of non-smokers, as well as into common areas such as hallways and lobbies, which are often designated as non-smoking areas in buildings which permit smoking in individual apartments.
Should this policy be implemented, it will impact over two-million public housing residents who reside in nearly 1.2 million units across the county. Approximately 760,000 are children under age 18 (38 percent), and over 329,000 are persons over the age of 62 (16 percent).
As of September 30, 2015, more than 600 PHAs have implemented smoke-free policies. This represents approximately 228,000 units, which means that the remaining 940,000 would become smoke-free if the ruling is implemented.
While there are many questions about how this policy will be enforced, what is clear is that, if approved, smoke-free facilities will become part of PHA policy, and will be a clause in each resident’s lease agreement. PHAs which have already implemented the policy have been encouraged to partner with local and state health departments and tobacco education organizations to help residents who want to quit. The same would be true if implemented for all PHAs. HUD will also work with its federal partners to provide more information about these services as part of future technical assistance and guidance in advance of the final rule.
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