Smoking may soon be illegal in the more than 1.2 million public homes run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
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The plan has been in the works since 2009, and in October 2014 the HUD said in a whitepaper it was looking to eliminate tobacco products from its properties due to the dangers of second-hand smoke, HousingWire reports.
Last week, HUD Secretary Julian Castro appeared side by side with Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy in Alexandria, VA., to propose making all U.S. public housing smoke-free.
The proposed changes are significant for public health, but Ballard Spahr attorney Amy Glassman warned the agency may have a difficult job to enforce any ban due to budgetary requirements:
"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 the move does go forward, more than 3,100 public housing agencies will be required to implement a ban on smoking within 18 months, the HUD said.
"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."
The HUD's proposed rules call for public housing agencies to implement a ban in all living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices and outdoor spaces within 25 feet of public homes and administrative office buildings. The HUD is asking for public comments over the next 60 days before making any final decision.
The HUD already “strongly encourages” public housing agencies to adopt smoke-free policies, but has yet to insist on the measure.
The agency notes that it's not just a public health concern. According to its data, smoking causes more than 100,000 fires each year, resulting in close to half a billion dollars in damages and over 500 deaths every year.