Smoking ban targets U.S. public housing

Area residents walk outside of a public housing project in Brooklyn, New York, November 21, 2014.

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

WASHINGTON -- Smoking could soon be banned in the nation's public housing.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule Thursday to require the more than 3,100 public housing agencies across the country to make their properties smoke-free.

"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," HUD Secretary Julian Castro said in a statement.

Castro says the ban would protect the health of more than 760,000 children and save about $153 million a year in health care costs, repairs and preventable fires.

The rule would ban lit tobacco products in all residences, indoor common areas and administrative offices. Smoking also would be prohibited outdoors within 25 feet of housing and administrative buildings.

In 2009, HUD began encouraging public housing agencies nationwide to adopt smoke-free policies in their buildings and common areas. Currently, there are more than 228,000 public housing units that are smoke-free. The proposed rule would impact the more than 940,000 units where smoking is allowed.

The New York City Housing Authority -- the nation's largest -- already prohibits smoking from common areas, including hallways and lobbies. CBS New York reports residents at a public housing complex in Queens had mixed feelings about the federal ban, which would prohibit smoking inside apartments.

"I honestly don't have a problem with that. Other neighbors who smoke in the building, the smoke comes out of their apartments and comes into my apartment," resident Kristy Maxwell told CBS' 1010 WINS radio. "I myself am a smoker, but I do not smoke in my apartment, I come outside to smoke."

"Personally, I'm not a smoker myself, so I'm totally fine with it [the ban]," said resident Andrew Medina.

But others thought a total ban goes too far. "I don't agree with that at all, people should be allowed to do what they want to do in their apartments as long as it's not illegal," one woman said.

The nation's surgeon general says the rule is needed to protect public housing residents from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

"Everyone - no matter where they live - deserves a chance to grow up in a healthy, smoke-free home," said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. "There is no safe level of secondhand smoke."

The public has 60 days to comment on the rule. The ban would take effect 18 months after the rule is finalized.