The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has proposed banning smoking in all 1.2 million public housing units across the country. Under the proposed rule more than 3,100 public housing agencies (PHA) across the country will have to institute no smoking policies within 18 months after the final rule.

“This is an important public health issue,” says Amy Glassman, an attorney with the Ballard Spahr firm in Washington, D.C. “It’s not only the health of the tenants but also their neighbors. A number of housing authorities are already addressing the issue on their own.”

A ban such as this raises many issues.

“I have concerns about imposing federal requirements to do this,” Ms. Glassman says. “Funding is scarce, and this creates yet another regulation for public housing authorities to comply with if it were implemented. Compliance is expensive. I also have general enforcement concern about how do you really implement a regulation like this. You have to think about who’s going to enforce this. Is it your maintenance people who inspect units? Is it your police force that’s protecting public safety?”

There are ways to implement such policies, but it can be complicated, according to Ms. Glassman, whose clients include PHAs.

“You give people warnings and you give them access to no-smoking resources,” she says. “The first step would never be eviction. However, to implement this type of regulation, at some point, a housing authority would need to be able to evict for smoking. I question whether they have the resources to do this, and whether the judicial system will be willing to evict low-income families for smoking.”

“I think trying to prohibit smoking is a good thing, but the devil is in the details and the implementation,” Ms. Glassman says.

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