Even Smokers Living in Public Housing Support Smoking Bans

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They might be hoping to quit soon, and they have a civic spirit about common indoor areas.

By Francie Diep

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(Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The government is banning smoking inside and within 25 feet of all public housing, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced on Wednesday. Enforcement of the ban will fall to local housing authorities; local departments have more than a year to comply.

The new rule drew sharp objections during its open comment period, but surveys of housing projects suggest many public-housing residents, including a significant minority of smokers, actually support smoking bans.

One survey of 301 residents of a subsidized housing complex in Columbus, Ohio, found that 36 percent of smokers and 72 percent of non-smokers supported a prohibition on lighting up inside apartments. Twenty-five percent of smokers and 46 percent of non-smokers supported keeping outdoor areas smoke-free. And most everyone agreed smoking shouldn’t be allowed in indoor common areas — 83 of residents, regardless of their tobacco habits.

Another survey of more than 200 residents of a complex in Tacoma, Washington, found even greater support for no-smoking rules among both smokers and non-smokers there. In fact, more than half of smokers in the Tacoma complex already didn’t allow friends and family to light up inside their own units.

Why would smokers support a regulation that makes their lives harder? Many of the Columbus supporters said they intended to quit smoking soon, so perhaps they’d hoped to lean on the rules to help them make a difficult change. If a housing unit’s no-smoking rule is paired with quitting aids — such as counseling or cheap nicotine patches — it might be welcomed by many residents.

City authorities that have already voluntarily adopted no-smoking rules for their public housing have reportedly relied on warnings and fines, according to the New York Times. “The last thing that we want are evictions,” Julián Castro, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, told reporters.

Parents of children with asthma were especially likely to favor anti-smoking rules in their complexes, which is not surprising: Secondhand smoke can trigger asthma attacks, and studies show that one-third to one-half of public housing residents say secondhand smoke seeps into their homes.

At first glance, a blanket smoking ban for public housing may seem like an intrusive step. But it may be one that many look forward to.

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