March 10, 2017

This New Study Shows Why All Public Housing Should Be Smoke-Free

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Photo credit: Live Smoke Free.

At HUD, we know that a good home lays the foundation for our health, happiness, and future success.  That’s why we work tirelessly to provide more Americans with a safer and healthier place to raise their families. 

We connect many of the most vulnerable people in our country with vital housing and healthcare services through the work of our Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) program, and our efforts to end homelessness in America.  And since 1993, our Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes has helped make more than 180,000 households safe from lead, and has been instrumental in addressing other hazards such as radon, pests, and tobacco smoke.

Last year, as part of our ongoing commitment, HUD announced a new rule that requires every public housing agency (PHA) in the United States to ensure their residents can live in a smoke-free environment.  This rule can help protect more than 910,000 households living in public housing, including more than 760,000 children and 500,000 elderly Americans.

The dangers of smoking are well documented.  According to the U.S. Surgeon General, smoking kills approximately 480,000 people each year.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also estimates that smoking inflicts nearly $153 million in annual damages upon PHAs in the form of health care costs, annual repairs to units where smoking has occurred, and preventable fires.

Now, a pioneering study from experts at HUD and the CDC paints an even clearer picture on the harmful health effects that smoking causes for people who live in public housing.

The paper, which is now available for free online, is the first to examine the prevalence and negative impact of cigarette smoking among adult residents of public housing.  Some of its key findings include:

  • One-third of adults living in public housing surveyed between 2006 and 2012 identified themselves as cigarette smokers — approximately double the rate of smoking among all adults in the United States.
  • Among adult residents in public housing, smokers were more likely than nonsmokers to suffer from conditions such as chronic lung disease, asthma, physical disabilities, and serious psychological distress.
  • Adult smokers in public housing were more likely than nonsmokers to visit the emergency room and to miss time from work.

Fortunately, the study also highlights the opportunity for HUD and its partners to play an important role in addressing these challenges.

More than half of the HUD-assisted smokers who were surveyed expressed an interest in kicking their addiction.  And the paper notes that housing assistance programs can act as a crucial platform for improving quality of life for residents by connecting them with resources for quitting smoking, and by introducing steps that protect children and other vulnerable Americans from exposure to secondhand smoke.

This study is a powerful reminder of why efforts like our smoke-free housing rule are so important.  And I want to thank authors Veronica E. Helms, Brian A. King, and Peter J. Ashley for their outstanding efforts.

HUD is committed to working with PHAs and public health professionals across the nation to give every resident of public housing the chance to live in a home that’s safe from the dangers of tobacco smoke.  And in the years ahead, we’ll keep striving to help improve the health and wellbeing of every person we serve — one family, one neighborhood, and one community at a time.

Jon L. Gant is the Director of the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes.         

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