Smoke-Free PHA

By on Aug 5, 2015 in News

Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) is the most recent addition to the growing list of public housing organizations to ban smoking.

Dozens of public housing authorities throughout the US, as well as private compashutterstock_264824651nies, have initiated smoking bans for residential units, common spaces, and offices. The policies are prompted by financial and health concerns.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that states could save $500 million per year by implementing a ban on smoking. By eliminating smoking on the premises, owners could save on the costs of cigarette-related fires, building renovations, and states could save on health care expenses related to smoking and secondhand smoke exposure.

In separate studies, the CDC estimates that 44 million American adults smoke cigarettes, exposing them to the nation’s leading cause of preventable death. The habit can cause rheumatoid arthritis, colorectal cancer, and diabetes in addition to exacerbating asthma, respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular diseases. Secondhand smoke adversely affects the growth of children and the health of seniors.

Last week, PHA became the largest housing authority to adopt a smoke-free policy. The authority’s 80,000 residents will be under a smoking ban beginning August 5, 2015. Current residents are not expected to quit cold turkey, nor will residents face eviction if they are found in violation of the band. Instead, the housing organization, with support from Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has designated $100,000 for cessation programs to help residents with compliance. After nine months with this format, PHA will assess data collected on existing residents regarding their violations and participation in cessation classes. How that data will be used is unknown.

Leases signed after August 5, as well as select rehabilitated units, will be subject to termination after the fourth violation of the smoking ban.

PHA follows in the tracks of other major US cities. Smoking bans are in place for more than 4,000 units in Detroit, 2,700 units in Seattle, 14,000 units in Boston, and 1,800 in Houston. Some transitions have been noticeably easier than others.

Boston Housing Authority (BHA) implemented the smoking ban back in 2012. BHA collaborated with Boston Public Health Commission to host cessation classes and distribute free nicotine patches to residents who were interested in kicking the habit. Residents found in violation face a maximum fine of $250. The transition was considerably smooth. Of 1,300 residents surveyed—which includes smokers–90 percent were in favor of the ban.

Houston has faced resistance. The 5,500 families living and working in Houston Housing Authority (HHA) have been under a smoking ban since April 2014. Houston has ruled with a tighter fist; noncompliance can result in lease termination for new and existing residents. HHA has partnered with City of Houston Health and Human Services to provide cessation services to residents, but some don’t believe that the organization is doing enough. Others feel that the city is simply trading one problem for others.

For Aboubacar N’Diaye, contributing editor at Free Press Houston, smoking bans appear to be shortsighted policies with long-term repercussions. N’Daiye begins, “Unlike other 
reasonable nuisance rules, like loud music or loitering, smoking is an 
actual chemical addiction, one that takes months, if not years to kick. 
To ask public housing residents to basically go cold turkey when they 
are anywhere near their own homes is to invite evictions and to exacerbate greater poverty risk factors.” Residents who can’t quit will suffer from eviction as well as additional repercussions to homelessness: job loss, food insecurity, and crime—all of which are more costly to state governments in the long run.

To date, public housing authorities have not published statistics on evictions that have come as a result of smoke-free policies.

A PHA fact sheet hinted towards a federal mandate for smoke-free housing, but HUD as not gone public with such an announcement.