HUD finalized a momentous policy yesterday, banning the smoking of tobacco and the use of tobacco-related products on all Public Housing premises nationwide.
As we covered in our previous article about the rule proposal, the new final rule has been created to protect tenants from secondhand smoke, limit injuries and deaths caused by smoking-related incidents, and reduce the costs of repairing damage in units caused by tenants who smoke. It is estimated by HUD that as much as $262 million per year could be saved by putting this no-smoking policy info effect.
Smoking tobacco and the use of tobacco-related products will be prohibited in all Public Housing units, common areas (including community facilities, day care centers and laundry rooms), office buildings, and outdoor areas up to 25 feet from any Public Housing affiliated building. Housing authorities have the ability to prohibit smoking in additional outdoor areas on the property such as playgrounds, and establish designated smoking locations outdoors that are beyond the 25 feet limit.
The specific banned tobacco products are cigarettes, cigars, pipes and water pipes (hookahs). This rule does not prohibit the use of chewing tobacco, snuff, or electronic cigarettes. The only significant change from the proposed policy to the final rule is that water pipes were added to the list of banned tobacco products. In the prior rule proposal, HUD asked for comments whether electronic cigarettes should be banned as well, but did not take action against those devices.
This policy change does not affect the Section 8 programs, or any affordable housing program other than Public Housing.
HUD has made a strong case against smoking and secondhand smoke, providing the following facts in the proposed rule that was published in November of last year:
- Smoking is proven to be the cause of several diseases in almost all organs of the body, and research continues to find new diseases. Examples include cancers and impairment to the immune system.
- Hundreds of toxic chemicals in secondhand smoke are responsible for 41,000 non-smoking adult deaths a year from lung cancer and heart disease.
- Smoke moves through buildings, so someone can be exposed to secondhand smoke even if nobody in the unit is a smoker. 58 million Americans are exposed to secondhand smoke, including 15 million children ages 3-11.
- Secondhand smoke causes sudden infant death syndrome for hundreds of infants each year. A significant amount of lead, among other chemicals, cause health issues for children, including increased risk for stroke as adult.
- There is no solution to avoid secondhand smoke other than eliminating smoke from the area.
Several anti-smoking organizations, such as Smoke-Free Housing NY, have supported this ruling.
More than 700,000 Public Housing units will be affected by this new policy. Some news articles have cited figures as high as 900,000 and 1.2 million units, but those figures were not provided on the final rule. We are reporting on the figure that was reported in the document.
Tenants will have some time to transition to this smoke-free policy, as housing authorities have around two to 18 months to put the rule in effect. The rule will be officially enacted 60 days after it is publicized in the Federal Register, and housing authorities must have a no-smoking policy in place within 18 months from that effective date. As of the writing of this article, the final rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register however it is scheduled to be published on December 5, 2016 and should be available here on that date.
The time frame is given for housing authorities to establish their no-smoking policies.
While implementation of the rule will incur a cost to housing authorities through training, administration, and enforcement, it is expected that the benefits will far outweigh those costs; both financially and in health.
More than 600 housing authorities have already began non-smoking policies in at least one building, so the cost would be minimal for those offices. For housing authorities that do not yet have any smoking ban, HUD has already provided guidance in implementing the rule. And since smoking within the prohibited area is considered a lease violation, no additional infrastructure is needed for enforcement.
Cost benefits for housing authorities (and ultimately the taxpayer) include reduced risk of fires, and lower maintenance expenses as a result of property damage caused by smoke. Besides finances, the most important benefits are in reducing tenant exposure to secondhand smoke, and limiting injuries and deaths caused by fires.
HUD has been clear in expressing that this policy does not ban Public Housing residents from smoking, and that housing authorities should continue to lease to tenants who smoke. Doing so would contradict HUD’s goals in ending homelessness and providing quality housing for all Americans.
The severe health risks of smoking and secondhand smoke have been well documented, and HUD has instituted this policy for the betterment of all tenants’ health and safety. The air in Public Housing communities will now be much healthier to breathe as a result of this ruling.
If Public Housing tenants have comments or questions regarding this smoke-free policy, they can contact the housing authority that manages their unit. Housing authority contact information can be found by using the search feature on Affordable Housing Online.