The Smoke-Free Ban in Public Housing: Immediate Benefits of a New Policy
Beginning on February 3rd, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) required Public Housing Agencies nationwide to implement a “smoke-free” environment. This rule prohibits the use of flammable tobacco products – including cigarettes, cigars, and hookah – inside all indoor areas of public housing units and within 25 feet of buildings.
Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) nationwide now have until July of 2018 to implement the new smoke-free policy. Repeated violations will be enforced as a lease violation, meaning residents could be evicted from their homes.
What’s already been done, and how many more people will this ban affect?
Prior to this ruling, 200,000 public housing units voluntarily initiated a smoke-free ban; however, most of these were located in the West, Northwest, and Northeast of the U.S., leaving many regions in the South and Midwest without smoking regulations in public housing.
With the new federal ruling in place, an additional 940,000 public housing units have taken measures to enforce a smoke-free residential environment. The ruling was expected to affect more than one million households across the U.S.
How will it impact residents?
For smokers, smoke-free residential environments will add to the growing list of locations where smoking is prohibited. In most states, smoking is already banned in many public places, including restaurants, bars, parks and open spaces. Some public comments in response to the ruling cited concerns about the inconvenience this may pose to residents, as they now have to leave their residences to smoke.
While this may be a legitimate concern for smokers in public housing, the ruling should benefit smokers and non-smokers alike, including many children. Smoke from tobacco products can travel between apartment units. Therefore, a complete ban not only benefits the health of residents by eliminating secondhand smoke, but also improves the indoor air quality for all apartment units and reduces the risks and injuries associated with smoking-related fires.
Potential downsides of the ruling
The ruling does not include a ban on non-flammable tobacco products, like e-cigarettes, which are becoming increasingly popular among youth and adults. There is limited evidence that e-cigarettes significantly increase the risk of fires or that the aerosol emitted from e-cigarettes cause harm to residential units. And, to the extent that e-cigarettes are used as replacements to traditional cigarettes, banning them in public housing may serve as an obstacle to smoking cessation efforts for some residents.
However, there is emerging evidence that secondhand exposure to e-cigarette aerosol may be harmful, that e-cigarette use is not safe for young people, and that most people who use these products use them in addition to cigarettes rather than in place of them. As more research evidence accumulates regarding the relative risks and benefits of e-cigarettes, officials may reconsider including them in the smoking ban.
Others have been critical of the ruling because it overwhelmingly targets economically disadvantaged people. There are no such legal restrictions on non-public housing. Therefore, some feel that this is a deliberate effort to monitor poor and vulnerable populations.
Additionally, the new ban on smoking in public housing does not provide smoking cessation services – only going so far as to encourage PHAs to contract services to help its residents stop smoking. There is no strict rule that actually enforces this. The lack of cessation services might make it hard for residents to comply with the ruling, putting vulnerable people at risk for eviction, essentially because they have an untreated health issue – addiction.
It still may help
Despite these limitations, this new policy is a bold step towards improving the health of residents and staff of public housing units, and moving one step closer to ending smoking and smoking-related diseases in the United States.
Adetutu Adekoya, MA
Adetutu is a Research Associate at Center on Addiction