Smoking will be banned on all Public Housing premises throughout the country starting July 31, 2018. Under the new regulations, smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes will not be allowed in apartments, public areas or within 25 feet of Public Housing buildings. Smoking water pipes, or hookahs, is also banned in these areas. At this time the smoking ban does not apply to e-cigarettes, nor to HUD properties that participate in housing programs other than Public Housing.
HUD published the nonsmoking regulation in 2016, giving Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) two years to implement it. While some PHAs already have established smoke-free policies, the rest are required to go smoke-free by the end of the month. This policy change only affects Public Housing properties. It does not affect the Section 8 programs or any other affordable housing program.
The rules remain the same as previously reported by Affordable Housing Online in 2016. The policy will still allow residents who smoke to rent a unit or have visitors who smoke. Instead, it puts restrictions on where smoking can occur on Public Housing properties. The smoking policy is being integrated into new leases, and violation of the smoking ban is considered a lease violation. This means that it is a civil violation, not a criminal one.
Public Housing residents will not be evicted for their first offense. HUD regulations call for three violations of the smoking policy before eviction can happen, but encourages PHAs to work with residents, encourage them to quit smoking and provide the counseling and resources residents may need to quit.
More than 600 PHAs already comply with the smoking restrictions, managing 228,000 Public Housing units. That leaves about 2,700 PHAs with 940,000 units who will be starting the policy for the first time this month.
Some Public Housing residents have pushed back against the new regulations, whether by public comment or legal action. When Affordable Housing Online reported on the ruling before it came into effect, social media responses were almost evenly split of being support of, and against the policy.
Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (CLASH) filed a lawsuit against HUD and Secretary Ben Carson calling for the ban to be lifted. CLASH is a New York City group and is also representing six smokers living in public housing in New York, Tennessee, New Mexico and Illinois. The suit claims the smoking ban violates the right to enjoy a legal activity in a private home as supported by the 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments. The suit also claims that the ban violates the “anticommandeering doctrine” outlined in the 10th Amendment, which holds that states cannot be made to enforce federal regulations. Various smoking bans have been upheld in many states, so it is not clear how successful this lawsuit may be.
HUD has promoted the smoke-free regulations because of public health impacts and impacts on Public Housing properties. The smoking restrictions will save PHAs an estimated $153 million per year in healthcare, repairs and losses from preventable fires related to smoking. For example, cleaning and turning over apartments for new renters costs more for smoking units. Other benefits are that insurance coverage costs less for nonsmoking properties and staff are not exposed to second-hand smoke.
HUD has promoted the health benefits of the new smoking restrictions. In banning smoking from all buildings, HUD notes the Surgeon General has said that second-hand smoke infiltrates all areas of buildings through ventilation, even non-smoking units. A 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) highlights the health impacts of smoking on Public Housing residents. One-third of adult Public Housing residents identified themselves as cigarette smokers, double the U.S. rate. Interest in quitting smoking was strong, though, with more than half having tried to quit in the few years before. Smokers in Public Housing were more likely to suffer from a variety of health conditions, including asthma, chronic lung disease and serious psychiatric distress. They were also more likely to visit emergency rooms and miss work than nonsmokers. The groups with the highest rates of smoking in Public Housing were 25-44 year olds (43%), non-Hispanic whites (40%) and households with children (38%).
HUD officials know that the smoking restrictions will pose challenges for some residents. But there is hope that the restrictions will encourage smokers to quit and is encouraging PHAs to support this effort. HUD has prepared a Fact Sheet about the Smoke-Free Policy. The Fact Sheet explains the reasons behind the policy and the benefits of a smoke-free living environment. It also explains steps that residents can take to prepare for the smoking restrictions, and provides information on resources to help residents quit smoking.