Nov. 30 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – 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 issuing a final rule to make public housing properties entirely smoke-free. This bold step will also help reduce smoking among groups that smoke at high rates and suffer the greatest burden of tobacco-related death and disease.
According to HUD, this new rule will protect the health and safety of more than two million public housing residents, including 760,000 children. It is also sound fiscal policy that HUD estimates will save public housing agencies $153 million a year in health care costs, repairs and preventable fires. Given the many health and financial benefits of this rule, it deserves strong, bipartisan support from our nation’s elected leaders.
The new rule gives public housing agencies 18 months 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. It is the culmination of a years-long effort to protect public housing residents from secondhand smoke. HUD has encouraged public housing agencies to adopt smoke-free policies since 2009 and issued its proposed rule to make all public housing units smoke-free in November 2015. According to HUD, more than 228,000 public housing units are already smoke-free, demonstrating that these policies can be effectively implemented. The new rule will expand the impact to more than 940,000 units.
We applaud HUD and Secretary Julián Castro for taking action to protect the health of public housing residents, including many children, elderly and people with health conditions 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 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 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.
It is disappointing that this new rule does not apply to electronic cigarettes, although individual housing authorities are permitted to include e-cigarettes in their policies. Including e-cigarettes in the new policy would facilitate enforcement and help achieve the goal of ensuring public housing residents can breathe clean air. According to the CDC, e-cigarette aerosol is not harmless water vapor and is not as safe as clean air. It contains nicotine, and studies have found other chemicals and toxins present in some e-cigarettes.
While our nation has made tremendous progress in reducing smoking 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 this terrible epidemic.