HUD smoking ban riles public housing residents

FILE - This Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015 file photo shows an ashtray with cigarette butts outside the Oklahoma County Courthouse in Oklahoma City. Researchers found that smokers who switched to special low-nicotine ones wound up smoking less and were more likely to try to quit, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – Public housing is going smoke-free. And, some residents are fuming.

In a long-debated policy shift, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a tobacco ban applicable to 1.2 million households nationwide, beginning in 18 months.

It could save taxpayers $152.91 million per year in renovation and fire costs, according to HUD.

Smoking rate of Americans in poverty. (Credit: CDC)
Smoking rate of Americans in poverty. (Credit: CDC)

The new prohibition applies to, “all living units, indoor common areas in public housing … [and] all outdoor areas up to 25 feet from the housing and administrative office buildings.”

HUD’s ban will have far-reaching impact, given that low-income smoking rates are nearly double that of more affluent Americans. Nationwide, 29.2% of citizens below the poverty line smoke cigarettes, compared to 16.2% of those not living in poverty, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

In Washington, D.C., public housing residents showed mixed enthusiasm for the new smoking policy.

“They’re taking away rights. That’s the one thing about America, we’re able to vote. So until they give us our right of voting, I don’t think they should come out with [the ban],” said resident Monique Doycisse.

Upon hearing the proposal, Doycisse and others quickly point out that the prohibition appears unenforceable. One resident asked if HUD would install cameras and smoke detectors in his home.

Several non-smoking residents do support the change, pointing to health benefits and cleaner facilities, but predict a “war” between HUD and smokers.

Cigarettes average $7.50 per pack in the nation’s capital, plus $2.91 in taxes. On a low-income budget, that takes a heavy budgetary toll, not to mention the public health cost which is often transferred to taxpayers through Medicaid services.

Smoking rates by insurance type. (Credit: Washington Post, CDC)
Smoking rates by insurance type. (Credit: Washington Post, CDC)

HUD avoided analyzing the health and financial benefits of a smoking ban on residents, but tallied up the pluses for non-smokers. The federal agency estimates the benefit of eliminating non-smokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke will register in the tens of millions annually.

Costs and benefits of HUD public housing smoking ban. (Credit: HUD)
Costs and benefits of HUD public housing smoking ban. (Credit: HUD)

Additionally, HUD explains that owners of public housing units would save the cost of cleaning up smoking units, which averages $1,250 – $2,955.

The public has 60 days to provide HUD input on the decision before implantation begins.

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