Suggested Smoking Ban in Federal Housing

smoking ban in federal housingLast week RentedSpaces told you about the hoopla surrounding a proposed outdoor smoking ban in West Hollywood. More recently the Apartment Guru looked at a smokers rights in a smoke-free building. Apparently all the anti-smoking sentiment and studies on how bad it is for you (not to mention those around you) is not enough to quell the issue.

Now the smoking-ban movement has come to federal housing. An article in The New England Journal of Medicine is stirring up the issue of smoking in public housing, with a call to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to ban smoking in all federally subsidized rental housing. If HUD imposed a smoking ban it would affect 7 million people.

The government telling people what to do never goes down easily in this freedom-loving country. But if scientists and doctors are urging such a widespread smoking ban, will the government listen? And should they?
The NEJM says: "Historically, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has maintained that although local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) may opt to ban smoking, they are not required to do so." So while HUD recommends people not smoke in federal housing, they don't enforce it -- so people are free to smoke.

Of course smoke can't easily be contained to a single apartment, which is a large concern in these multi-family buildings. The Med Guru discusses how apartment-dwellers are exposed to passive smoking, and numerous studies support their claim.

Steve Gallegos is a public health consultant for public policy, who has worked to pass smoking bans in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and other places. He is currently working to pass the proposed outdoor smoking ban in West Hollywood.

"A regulation that would ban smoking in federal housing is going to provide a safe, healthy environment from people that are in these properties. It's a better investment of taxpayer dollars, to have these become smoke-free," Gallegos states. He makes the point that since the units are built with taxpayer money, and are designed to last for a while, having smokers in the units will quickly deteriorate a building's condition.

"The public is making an investment in this property, since it's paid for with tax dollars and it's thought to last a long time. I think if you were to look at the cost of renovating an apartment for someone who smokes, it's high, since you have to gut the place," Gallegos says. "Third-hand smoke -- that seeps into insulation. And unless you gut the place of these materials, the third-hand smoke stays in the structure of the home."

The units and buildings are not only unhealthy, but having smokers in them makes the cost of construction higher in the long term.

The NEJM study goes on to explain all the ways that smoking is unhealthy, and that four out of every 10 units in federal housing are occupied by families with children. The children in smoking units will endure more direct contact with second-hand smoke.

But is the current policy "strongly encouraging" Public Housing Authorities to have non-smoking policies enough? According to Gallegos and the NEJM article, it is not.

The article concludes by saying: "The same legal, practical, and health issues that have driven successful efforts to make workplaces, private vehicles, and private housing smoke-free militate in favor of extending similar protection to the vulnerable public-housing population."

Only time will tell if this smoking ban will be endorsed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and we'll keep you up to date on developments.

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