The Department of Housing and Urban Development is one step closer to making the nation’s public housing 100% smoke free.

Back in October 2014, the national agency announced an action plan to rid its properties of tobacco-based products, citing the dangers of second-hand smoke as one major motivation. This white paper was the result of initiatives that started in 2009.

And so today, HUD Secretary Julián Castro joined Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy in Alexandria, VA to announce a proposed rule to make the nation’s public housing properties entirely smoke-free.

According to Ballard Spahr attorney Amy Glassman who follows the issue closely, the announcement is huge.

"The proposed rule seeks to address a significant public health issue, which impacts not only smokers and their families, but also other residents and employees of public housing sites," she said in a statement to HousingWire.

But she said there is also other considerations yet addressed with such a ban:

"These are issues that many housing authorities have been considering and addressing for some time.  However, a required smoking ban, if implemented, would add regulatory requirements to a program that is already facing significant funding shortages. It would be helpful if additional funding resources were provided to assist housing authorities with implementing and enforcing an additional regulatory requirement.  Further, smoking bans raise a number of enforcement questions, both with respect to lease enforcement as well as accommodating persons with disabilities, so HUD guidance on both issues would be extremely helpful."

If successful, 3,100 public housing agencies will need to ban smoking within the following 18 months, HUD said in a statement.

"We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially the elderly and children who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases," said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. "This proposed rule will help improve the health of more than 760,000 children and help public housing agencies save $153 million every year in healthcare, repairs and preventable fires."

Under HUD’s proposed rule, PHAs must implement a policy prohibiting lit tobacco products) in all living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices and all outdoor areas within 25 feet of housing and administrative office buildings. HUD is seeking public comment on this proposed rule for the next 60 days.  

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

By reducing the public health risks associated with tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, the proposed smoke-free rule will enhance the effectiveness of HUD’s efforts to provide increased public health protection for residents of public housing. The rule will impact the more than 940,000 units that are currently smoke-free, including more than 500,000 units inhabited by elderly households.

“So, when 58 million Americans – including 15 million children – are exposed to secondhand smoke, we have an obligation to act. That is what Secretary Castro is doing with this proposal," said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy.

Since 2009, HUD strongly encouraged Public Housing Agencies to adopt smoke-free policies in their buildings and common areas.

It is estimated that smoking causes over 100,000 fires each year, resulting in more than 500 death and close to half a billion dollars in direct property damage; additionally, smoking is the lead cause of fire related deaths in multifamily buildings.

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