WASHINGTON — Smoking will be prohibited in public housing developments nationwide under a final rule announced Wednesday by the Obama administration.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has been encouraging local public agencies to enact smoking bans, and about 228,000 public housing units already are smoke-free. The new rule will expand to more than 940,000 units.
The Housing Authority of Cook County adopted a smoking ban for all 1,900 units in suburban Cook County last year, and the Chicago Housing Authority has barred residents from smoking at some of its buildings as far back as 2010. At present, 11 CHA buildings are smoke-free, and since 2014 the housing authority has banned smoking at any newly built, acquired or refurbished buildings.
In announcing the ban, administration officials emphasized the dangers of secondhand smoke to children, saying it can increase the risk of asthma, ear infections and even sudden infant death syndrome.
“Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, healthy home free from harmful secondhand cigarette smoke,” HUD Secretary Julian Castro said.
The final rule prohibits lit tobacco products in all living units and indoor common areas, and all outdoor areas within 25 feet of housing and administrative offices.
The new rule gives public housing agencies 18 months to implement the ban.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the smoke-free policy will save housing agencies $153 million every year in repairs, preventable fires and health care costs. That amount includes $16 million in costs associated with smoking-related fires. Cook County officials estimated the ban would protect 1,800 people from secondhand smoke and would lead to 550 people quitting smoking in suburban Cook County public housing.
Cook County housing officials said a majority of residents surveyed in 2014 supported a smoking ban, and both the county and CHA officials said they have worked with public health officials to help residents with smoking cessation programs.
“Protecting people from secondhand smoke saves lives and saves money,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said. “No level of secondhand smoke exposure is safe, and the home is the primary source of secondhand smoke for children.”
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauded HUD’s actions, saying “this bold step” would reduce smoking among groups that suffer the most from tobacco-related death and disease. The organization said HUD also should have gone further and applied the ban to electronic cigarettes, though local housing authorities are permitted to do so.
Contributing: Andy Grimm, Chicago Sun-Times reporter