Federal Government Moves To Ban Smoking In Public Housing

By McCarton Ackerman 11/16/15

The proposed ban could affect up to a million households.

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Most public establishments in the United States have already banned smoking, but the trend could soon be extended to public housing nationwide if the federal government has its way.

The proposed ban was put forth by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and would affect nearly one million households. Common areas and administrative offices on public housing properties would also be subject to the ban.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) would be the most affected organization if it passed. More than 400,000 people live in just over 178,000 apartments in NYCHA buildings. Smoking is already banned in the hallways and lobbies of these buildings.

Not only would the buildings be affected, but so would a huge percentage of NYCHA residents. A 2012 survey of people who live in these buildings found that 14% of all residents smoked, while 24% of apartments reported at least one household member who did. Conversely, over 35% of residents said their household included a child with some form of respiratory problem.

But NYCHA Chairwoman and Chief Executive Shola Olatoye explained to the New York Times that “the major issue is our ability to enforce something like this.” She believes the issue is far too minor for the police to be involved and should be led by residents.

“It’s a fraught process, because to do it properly you need community buy-in,” said Sunia Zaterman, executive director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities. “To do this successfully, it can’t be a top-down edict, because you want people to comply with the policy.”

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that having public housing buildings nationwide go smoke-free would save about $153 million annually, including $94 million in health care. But for those residents who smoke, the potential money saved isn’t worth what they feel is an infringement on their rights.

“What I do in my apartment should be my problem, long as I pay my rent,” said Brooklyn NYCHA resident Gary Smith. “What are they going to do, smell your apartment?”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.