Smoking would be prohibited inside public housing units under new rules from the Obama administration.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), along with the surgeon general, proposed new rules Thursday that would ban lit cigarettes, cigars and pipes from government-assisted housing projects for low-income families.
The smoking ban would protect hundreds of thousands of public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, HUD noted.
"We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially the elderly and children who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases," HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a statement.
“Everyone — no matter where they live — deserves a chance to grow up in a healthy, smoke-free home,” added Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy. "There is no safe level of secondhand smoke. So, when 58 million Americans — including 15 million children — are exposed to secondhand smoke, we have an obligation to act.”
State and local public housing agencies would have 18 months to implement smoke-free policies not only inside the housing units but also in administrative offices and other indoor and outdoor common areas, according to HUD.
Public health advocates applauded the smoking ban, which would “ensure that residents in public housing can breathe smoke-free air where they live,” said Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
“No one should be exposed to secondhand smoke in their home, especially our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, including children, the elderly and low-income Americans,” said Harold Wimmer, president of the American Lung Association.
Secondhand smoke is responsible for about 41,000 deaths each year, according to health advocates, who say it is of particular concern for children and elderly people, who are more at risk.
“There is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure for children,” said Sandra Hassink, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Every child deserves to have a healthy environment."
Around the country, more than 228,000 public housing units have already adopted smoke-free policies, which HUD began recommending in 2009.
The new smoke-free rules would apply to more than 940,000 that currently do not follow those recommendations.
The public has 60 days to comment.
--This report was updated at 1:02 p.m.