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article imageOp-Ed: U.S. to consider smoking ban in public housing nationwide

By Megan Hamilton     Nov 13, 2015 in Politics
Washington D.c. - The U.S. government is considering legislation that would ban smoking on public housing land nationwide, and this includes homes, communal areas, and administrative offices within these areas.
The ban could affect about one million homes.
The government argues the ban is necessary in order to protect residents from secondhand smoke, to reduce fire hazards, and to lessen the cost of building maintenance, The Independent reports.
Many public housing agencies in the U.S. have already been enforcing this ban since 2009 when calls for this move surfaced.
In New York City's Housing Authority homes, this would affect more than 400,000 people.
The proposed rule, introduced Thursday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), requires over 3,100 public housing agencies to become smoke-free in the next several years, The Washington Post reports. The agencies will implement policies banning lit tobacco products in all indoor common areas, living units, administrative offices, and in all outdoor areas near these places, HUD officials said.
I'm torn about this.
I've never lived in public housing, but if there's one thing I don't like, it's someone telling me what I can or can't do in my own home. I don't feel any differently about the government telling me this, either. Then again, my sister and I were subjected to second-hand cigarette smoke during the entirety of our childhoods because our parents were heavy smokers. My poor sister has really been impacted by this and has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and asthma. I have had severe asthma and pneumonia, and during my last stint I wound up being transported by ambulance to the emergency room. Suffice it to say neither of us are fond of cigarettes. In our entire lives, we've never touched one of them, except to throw it out.
How toxic is second-hand smoke?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines secondhand smoke as the combination of smoke from the tip of the cigarette and the smoke exhaled by smokers. It contains more than 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic. About 70 of these chemicals are cancer-causing.
Since a 1964 report by the Surgeon General, 2.5 million non-smoking adults have died because they breathed secondhand smoke.
The CDC also reports that smoking during pregnancy causes over 1,000 infant deaths each year.
For children, the effects of second-hand smoke can be particularly devastating, especially for infants because second-hand smoke increases the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Children of smokers can be afflicted with a number of illnesses, the CDC reports, including:
• More frequent bronchitis and pneumonia. Kids whose parents smoke get sick more often, and their lungs grow less than those of kids whose parents don’t smoke.
• Wheezing and coughing are also more common.
• Asthma attacks are also more severe and more common. If a child suffers a severe attack it can put their life in danger.
• Ear infections are more common in kids whose parents smoke. These kids also have fluid in their ears more frequently and have to undergo more operations to put ear tubes in to aid drainage.
In adults, second-hand smoke results in almost 34,000 premature deaths due to heart disease each year. Non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke at home or work are 25-30 percent likelier to develop heart disease. The risk of stroke for non-smokers is also greatly increased by about 20-30 percent, and exposure to second-hand smoke kills about 4,000 people each year.
Not only that, but a 2013 study conducted by researchers from King's College London and Anhui Medical University in China found that second-hand smoke may be linked to dementia in older people, HuffPost Healthy Living reports.
Up in smoke
The New York Times reports that a study conducted by the CDC estimated that if a nationwide smoke-free public policy is enacted it would save $153 million. That number would include $94 million in health care, $43 million in reduced costs for painting and cleaning units damaged by smoke, and an additional $16 million in averted fire losses.
"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," HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a statement, per The Washington Post. "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."
Photo: Julián Castro
In the five decades since the U.S. Surgeon General first linked cigarette smoking to cancer and other deadly diseases the campaign has successfully seen cigarette smoking drop among adults by more than half from its rate of 42 percent in 1965. Plus, former smokers are now more numerous than those who currently light up.
Even so, 480,000 Americans still die every year from cigarette smoking, and it's the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., the CDC reports. Officials cited this health data as justification for proposing the smoking ban; especially considering the risk to children and elderly people who live in more than 500,000 housing units.
"Everyone – no matter where they live – deserves a chance to grow up in a healthy, smoke-free home," U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy said, per The Washington Post. "There is no safe level of second-hand smoke. So, when 58 million Americans – including 15 million children – are exposed to secondhand smoke, we have an obligation to act."
In New York however, restricting smoking inside public dwellings will likely pose a challenge for public housing agencies which are already overburdened, The New York Times notes. Some residents, who may well be resentful of being bossed around by the government in their own homes, are likely to object.
"What I do in my apartment should be my problem, long as I pay my rent," said Gary Smith, 47, sitting outside the door to a building in a group of houses in Brooklyn.
Nowhere will this impact be more heavily felt than in the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which houses more than 400,000 people in some 178,000 apartments. While it is the largest public housing agency in the U.S., it has been slow to adopt smoke-free policies.
NYCHA has 328 developments across New York City's five boroughs, the Times reports, and Grand Canyon-sized deficits even without the proposal. With declining federal subsidies this has prompted numerous efforts to increase revenue.
Under the proposed rule, housing agencies must prohibit lit cigarettes, cigars, and pipes in all living units, indoor common areas, administrative buildings and all outdoor areas within 25 feet of administrative buildings and housing. As it stands, the rule doesn't apply to electronic cigarettes, but federal officials are searching for input regarding whether to ban them.
The rule also allows individual housing authorities to be as restrictive as they want; they can even extend the prohibition to areas around playgrounds, or make their entire area smoke-free, officials said.
The ban would also be included in tenant leases, and while not intended to result in evictions, violations would be treated like other nuisance violations that are usually reported by neighbors or employees, Castro noted, per the Times.
"The purpose is to go smoke-free and to have healthier communities," Castro said. "My hope is that housing authorities would work with residents to prepare them for this change so that any kind of punitive measures like evictions are avoided at all costs."
The public will have 60 days to comment on the rule, and individual housing agencies would an 18-month period from the effective date of the final rule to adopt and implement their smoke-free policies after public review and meetings with residents.
The rebel in me still wants to thumb my nose at the government, but I can't help but wish a rule like this had been implemented when my sister and I were children. We could have breathed much easier.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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