US bans smoking in public housing; agencies have 18 months to comply with federal rule

NEW YORK — Public housing developments across the United States must provide smoke-free environments for residents, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development announced Wednesday, and agencies have 18 months to make sure some 1.2 million affected households are in compliance.

All lit tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars and pipes, will be banned in living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices, and, when outside, within 25 feet of houses and administrative office buildings, the department stated.

The new rule impacts 1.2 million households nationwide — the majority of which are located in New York City, where the largest public housing agency in the U.S. includes more than 400,000 resident and some 178,000 apartments, the New York Times reports.

The housing department says resources and support will be provided to more than 3,100 public housing agencies to implement the rule. Additional details were not provided.

Residents' health and reducing costs to public housing agencies were stated as reasons for making the change.

"Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, healthy home free from harmful second-hand cigarette smoke," department Secretary Julián Castro said in a statement. "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."

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the country, with 480,000 Americans dying every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, it is the leading cause of fire-related deaths in multifamily buildings, the CDC states.

"Protecting people from secondhand smoke saves lives and saves money," CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden stated in the health department's Wednesday news release. "This is especially important in the places where we live. No level of secondhand smoke exposure is safe, and the home is the primary source of secondhand smoke for children."

In addition to improving residents' health, the department hopes to save public housing agencies $153 million annually in repairs and preventable fires.

This includes $94 million in secondhand smoke-related healthcare, $43 million in renovation of smoking-permitted units and $16 million in smoking-related fire losses, according to the department.

More than 100,000 fires nationwide are caused by smoking annually, according to the health department. These result in more than 500 deaths and nearly half a billion dollars in property damage.