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U.S. Proposes A Ban On Smoking In All Public Housing

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said Thursday the proposed rule "will help improve the health of more than 760,000 children."
Dave Martin
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Nearly 1.2 million public housing units would need to become "entirely smoke-free" under a new rule put forth Thursday by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

The proposed rule would give more than 3,100 public housing agencies 18 months to ban cigarettes, cigars and pipes in all living units, indoor common areas and within 25 feet of buildings. The ban would also apply to administrative offices.

The change would add nearly 1 million public housing units to the more than 228,000 units that are already smoke-free, according to HUD.

Announcing the proposed rule Thursday alongside Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Castro cited both the health risks of smoking and the costs of preventable fires.

"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," Castro said. "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 health care, repairs and preventable fires."

A HUD news release says that those numbers come from a 2014 CDC study, which broke down the potential savings of a smoking ban like this:

  • $94 million in secondhand smoke-related health care;
  • $43 million in renovating smoking-permitted units;
  • $16 million in smoking-related fire losses.
  • As for how the rule will be enforced, the transition will start with a push to educate housing residents, says Lourdes Castro Ramirez, principal deputy assistant secretary for HUD's Office of Public and Indian Housing.

    "The more they understand what the lease requirements are, the more ready and able they will be in terms of complying," Ramirez says on NPR's Here & Now.

    Asked whether the new rule might put some residents in danger of being evicted, Ramirez says, "I'm not worried that that's going to happen."

    Citing the public housing agencies that have already banned smoking, she says: "That has not been the effect. Quite the contrary, for some public housing residents, they've used this as an opportunity to quit smoking."

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    Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.