The Department of Housing and Urban Development officially banned smoking in public housing Wednesday, forcing disabled and elderly tenants out on the street to smoke a cigarette.
The government acknowledges that its ban, which prohibits low-income Americans from smoking on their balconies and porches, could lead to eviction notices.
The agency issued the proposal one year ago. The final rule implements a far-reaching ban that includes electrical closets of low-income housing complexes, and prohibits tenants from smoking within 25-feet of their home.
Public Housing Authorities (PHA) must implement a smoking ban within 18 months. The regulation could cost taxpayers as much as $340 million.
Americans who submitted comments to the proposed rule lamented the Obama administration's "crusade against smokers," and expressed concerns that elderly and disabled public housing residents would be overly burdened by the policy.
"Some commenters objected to the proposed 25-foot smoke-free perimeter around all public housing buildings," the agency wrote in the final rule. "Some felt that the distance was too large because it would force smokers off the property and onto sidewalks or adjacent areas, including the street. Others expressed concern that the distance would be too great for elderly residents or residents with disabilities or would place residents in danger from having to travel so far. Some believed that the distance could subject smokers to crime or would force parents to leave sleeping children."
"Commenters stated that requiring smokers to go outdoors is enough and that residents should be able to smoke on their porches or balconies," the agency said.
"Many commenters objected to the proposed rule because of the burden it would place on public housing residents," according to the final rule. "Some stated that an indoor smoking ban is unfair to persons with disabilities who cannot easily travel outside their units, particularly if they live alone and cannot leave without help. Others commented that it was not right to force the elderly or persons with disabilities outside in bad weather, putting their health at risk. Some simply stated that it would be unfair to make the elderly or persons with disabilities walk that far to smoke."
HUD said it "appreciates" the comments on requiring the elderly and disabled to walk 25 feet to smoke, but refused to change the policy. The agency said elderly and disabled tenants, who make up the vast majority of low-income housing residents, would benefit from the rule.
"The benefits of smoke-free policies could also be considerable," the agency said. "Over 700,000 units would be affected by this rule (including over 500,000 units inhabited by elderly households or households with a non-elderly person with disabilities), and their non-smoking residents would have the potential to experience health benefits from a reduction of exposure to [secondhand smoke]."
The ban could lead to poor Americans being evicted for multiple violations.
"Several commenters stated that the use of eviction as an enforcement mechanism would result in the most vulnerable residents in public housing, who need secure housing the most, being forced out of their homes," the agency said.
HUD replied "there is no ‘right' to smoke in a rental home, and smokers are not a protected sub-class under anti-discrimination laws."
The agency also said that the best way to enforce the ban is to include it in individual lease agreements.
"Commenters stated that the rule is merely part of a crusade against smokers," the final rule said.
The ban will cost an estimated $30.2 million the first year to establish designated smoking areas, and between $56 million and $340 million for "inconvenience."
The government said the ban will have a net benefit between negative $248 million and $262 million for reduced fire risk and "residents' well being."
HUD Secretary Julián Castro said the smoking ban is for the children.
"Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, healthy home free from harmful second-hand cigarette smoke," Castro said. "HUD's smoke-free rule is a reflection of our commitment to using housing as a platform to create healthy communities. By working collaboratively with public housing agencies, HUD's rule will create healthier homes for all of our families and prevent devastating and costly smoking-related fires."
Commenters disagreed with Castro, saying it is "unfair to subject children to homelessness from eviction for the actions of their parents."
The agency said it has been working on banning smoking in public housing since 2009, when President Obama took office. One of his first acts as president was to hike tobacco taxes by 156 percent, which impacted the poorest Americans the most.