HUD Proposal to Make Public Housing Smoke-Free Will Protect the Health of Children and Families

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Nov. 12 2015

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today has taken historic action to protect our nation’s most vulnerable children and families from harmful secondhand smoke by proposing to make the nation’s public housing properties entirely smoke-free. This proposal will also discourage smoking among groups that have high rates of smoking and suffer the greatest burden of tobacco-related death and disease. This is a bold and necessary step that can accelerate our nation’s progress in reducing smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, especially among Americans who are most at risk.

HUD’s proposed rule would require all public housing agencies to implement smoke-free policies that apply to all living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices and outdoor areas within 25 feet of housing and administrative office buildings. According to HUD, more than 228,000 public housing units are already smoke-free. The proposed smoke-free rule would expand the impact to more than 940,000 units. HUD estimates that the proposed rule will help improve the health of more than 760,000 children and save public housing agencies $153 million a year in health care costs, repairs and preventable fires.

This rule will protect the health of public housing residents, including many children, elderly and people with disabilities who are particularly susceptible to the health effects of secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and at least 69 that cause cancer. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, secondhand smoke causes lung cancer, heart disease and stroke in non-smoking adults and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), low birth weight, respiratory problems, ear infections and more severe asthma in infants and children.

The Surgeon General has also found that secondhand smoke is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year, there is no safe level of exposure, and only comprehensive smoke-free policies provide effective protection.

A CDC report released earlier this year found that, while the percentage of Americans exposed to secondhand smoke has fallen by more than half since 1999, one in four non-smokers – 58 million people altogether – were still exposed. Children had the highest levels of exposure, with 40.6 percent of children aged 3-11 and 67.9 percent of African-American children in that age group still exposed to secondhand smoke. Exposure was also high among those living in poverty and in rental housing.

While our nation has made tremendous progress in reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, tobacco use is still the nation’s number one cause of preventable death, killing nearly half a million Americans and costing about $170 billion in health care expenses each year. HUD’s action today is another key step toward ending the tobacco epidemic for good.

 

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