Smoking will not be allowed in public housing units across the country under a new federal rule announced Wednesday.
The move by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) drew praise from the Academy as a measure that will protect the health of more than 760,000 children, including minorities who are impacted disproportionately.
“Before today, parents living in public housing units could not protect their children from the secondhand smoke that seeped through walls and shared ventilation systems,” said AAP President Benard P. Dreyer, M.D., FAAP. “Before today, simply living in a building without smoke-free policies put children at risk for asthma flare-ups, trouble breathing and severe long-term health issues. … HUD’s long-awaited action to make all public housing smoke-free will address this injustice and public health threat, and most importantly, protect children and their families.”
HUD’s new rule, which will be implemented over the next 18 months, prohibits lit tobacco products in public housing residential units, common areas, administration buildings and outdoor areas within 25 feet of such buildings.
Two in five children in federally subsidized housing are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to a February 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study.
In addition to inhaling secondhand smoke, children also are exposed to toxins through ingestion and dermal absorption from surfaces in their home, according to Jonathan P. Winickoff, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, director of translational research for the AAP Julius B. Richmond Center of Excellence and a member of the AAP Tobacco Consortium.
“Kids are uniquely susceptible to tobacco smoke toxins, and one of the great benefits of the whole building going smoke-free is that not only will kids not get exposed in their own units, but they won’t get exposed in the hallways and the elevators and the staircases,” said Dr. Winickoff, who participated in a roundtable with federal officials Wednesday.
HUD has encouraged public housing authorities to implement smoke-free housing rules since 2009, and more than 600 already have done so. The Academy has been advocating for passage of smoke-free housing rules and was among the groups that gave input to HUD earlier this year.
HUD Secretary Julián Castro called the new nationwide rule “a big win for our children.”
“We know that secondhand smoke is one of the leading triggers of asthma and other respiratory diseases for children and for adults,” Castro said. “Smoking in the home also causes more than 100,000 residential fires.”
The smoke-free rule does not include e-cigarettes, but Castro said that could change once more research becomes available. The Academy also would like to see all multi-unit housing go smoke-free, which it advocated for in its 2015 policy on tobacco.
“We really believe as pediatricians that all children should have a safe environment to play, live, sleep and eat,” Dr. Winickoff said. “Even though for people who smoke there may be slight inconvenience in terms of having to smoke outside, the overriding social justice imperative is that children have the right to clean air in their homes because they don’t have a voice and they don’t have a choice in where they live.”