The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is being praised for a new policy on smoking, but not for reasons one might think.
HUD announced this week it will ban smoking in public housing. The administration emphasized what is common knowledge: that exposing people to secondhand smoke is hazardous. It also cited statistics showing the ban will save the government millions of dollars in repairs, preventable fires, and healthcare costs.
But Jeff Stier of the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) says what he found most interesting about this rule is that it changed from what was originally proposed.
"The original proposal said that it was going to ban smoking in public housing as well as the use of e-cigarettes," explains Stier. "At the time, I was very critical of that because the people who are most vulnerable – people living in public housing – are not getting accurate information about how to reduce their risk from smoking. And if the government tells them that cigarettes and e-cigarettes both need to be banned because they're dangerous, it's sending the wrong message."
The Food and Drug Administration wants to regulate e-cigarettes and other products, but Stier believes the restrictions are too harsh and may actually cut down on the number of e-cigarette products that Stier says provide an alternative to smoking tobacco.
"HUD got it right," Stier adds. "And while it is banning smoking and different people have different opinions on smoking on public housing property, it is making a distinction, a critical distinction, that the FDA has been unable to make, which is that cigarettes are a lot more dangerous than e-cigarettes; and e-cigarettes don't present the secondhand smoke problem because there is no smoke."
Stier does have concerns about unintended consequences about banning the use of even cigarettes on public housing property.
"I'm not talking about inside of the buildings, but in a large, open area where there are no children," he explains. "That's banned too for smoking; and it may force people to go late at night into unsafe areas. So I do think HUD should be aware of that – but I think I'll take this rare opportunity to applaud this agency and the Obama administration in their waning days to say at least they were able to make a distinction that FDA could not."
Meanwhile, OneNewsNow did ask Stier if and how HUD might police smoking on public property.
"The officials at HUD have already indicated that they don't want to be evicting tenants for violating this rule, so I do not expect strict enforcement," he answers.
"There are much more significant safety problems among other things in public housing across the United States and I think that should rightly be the focus of HUD. But certainly I don't think it's a bad idea, for instance, if there is a playground to ban cigarette smoking in those areas."