The Department of Housing and Urban Development is moving forward with regulations to ban smoking in public housing.
The agency issued a prosed rule Thursday that outlines a far-reaching ban that includes electrical closets of low-income housing complexes, and implementing costs of over $200 million. The agency acknowledged that the rule could lead to eviction notices for poor, disabled smokers.
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"This proposed rule would require each public housing agency (PHA) administering public housing to implement a smoke-free policy," a notice published in the Federal Register read. "Specifically, this rule proposes that no later than 18 months from the effective date of the final rule, each PHA must implement a policy prohibiting lit tobacco products in all living units, indoor common areas in public housing, and in PHA administrative office buildings (in brief, a smoke-free policy for all public housing indoor areas)."
"The smoke-free policy must also extend to all outdoor areas up to 25 feet from the housing and administrative office buildings," it said.
The smoking ban would apply to all lit cigarettes, pipes, and cigars in indoor areas "including but not limited to living units, indoor common areas, electrical closets, storage units, and PHA administrative office buildings and in all outdoor areas within 25 feet of the housing and administrative office buildings."
Hookahs and electronic cigarettes were not included in the proposed rule, although the agency is seeking comment on whether to include them in the final regulation.
"The absence of a prohibition on the use of e-cigarettes in this rule should not be read as an endorsement of e-cigarettes as an acceptable health alternative to cigarettes," the regulators said.
The agency added that allowing e-cigarettes might harm its plans to ban smoking in public housing because someone using one "may appear to be smoking a conventional cigarette," creating confusion.
The government estimated that the regulatory action would cost at least $212.2 million, and did not quantify how much the rule would cost to enforce.
The agency is pushing ahead with the ban despite its admission that low-income tenants could find themselves evicted as a result of the rule. The preferred method of establishing the ban will be through lease agreements, a violation of which could result in an eviction notice.
"There may be costs to residents as a result of eviction, particularly for persons with disabilities, and especially those with mobility impairments," the agency said. "HUD recognizes that this rule could adversely impact those with mobility impairment or particular frailties that prevent them from smoking in designated areas. As mentioned above, HUD will develop guidance on reasonable accommodation, and HUD solicits public comment on how to mitigate these potential adverse impacts."
The proposed rule is the latest action by the Obama administration against poor smokers. One of his first moves in office was a 156 percent increase on the federal excise tax on tobacco. Americans for Tax Reform noted that the 61-cent per pack tax hike hurt those in poverty the most, as the median income of smokers is $36,000 per year.
While the ban could leave elderly and disabled tenants evicted, Julián Castro, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, argued that the rule would help the elderly.
"We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially the elderly and children who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases," he said.
The ban would affect 700,000 housing units, the majority of which are filled with elderly tenants. The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days.