Public Housing Goes Smoke-Free, Protecting Vulnerable Children and Families

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
July 30, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Effective July 31, 2018, all public housing authorities must provide a completely smoke-free environment for their residents under a 2016 rule issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This historic step will protect our nation’s most vulnerable children and families from harmful secondhand smoke. It 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 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.

Announced on November 30, 2016, HUD’s rule required public housing authorities to implement smoke-free policies applicable 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 were already smoke-free at the time the rule was announced and many more have since become smoke-free, demonstrating that these policies can be effectively implemented. Altogether, the new rule will impact more than 940,000 units.

We applaud HUD for taking strong 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.

As this rule is implemented, it is critical that public housing residents be provided assistance in quitting smoking, including the medication and counseling that can help them succeed. Among other resources, smokers trying to quit can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit www.smokefree.gov to connect with a trained cessation coach. Additional resources for residents and housing authorities – in English and Spanish – are available on the HUD smoke-free housing web site.

While our nation has made tremendous progress in reducing smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, tobacco use is still the number one cause of preventable death, killing nearly half a million Americans and costing about $170 billion in health care expenses each year. The HUD rule is another strong step toward ending this terrible epidemic.