More public housing agencies prohibit smoking

    More than 230 public housing agencies around the country have banned their residents from smoking in their homes.

    WHYY/NewsWorks called housing officials across our region and asked about their plans.


    No one from the Philadelphia Housing Authority was available for comment in time for this story, and there was no response from the officials in Camden. But York in Central Pennsylvania is doing it, and Allentown in Lehigh County is on board too.

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    Typically, public housing bans prohibit smoking both in individual units, and within a 25- to 50-foot buffer zone around a building. That means no lighting up on the balcony or stepping outside for a quick puff, says Richard Fox, York Housing Authority executive director.

    “We’ve had residents come in and complain they cannot breathe in their hallways,” Fox said. “Persons with asthma or other respiratory disease, they should be able to breathe safe air.”

    Fred Purnell, Wilmington, housing authority executive director, says smoking’s not allowed in common areas, but is allowed inside individual homes.

    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published a toolkit to guide landlords, but Purnell said the federal government has not offered cities help for what he calls “inevitable lawsuits” from public housing residents who want to smoke at home.

    Matthew Moore is a staff attorney with ChangeLab Solutions. His California firm provides technical assistance to cities working to overhaul their health policies.

    “The ability of a landlord or property owner to prohibit smoking on their property is no different than their ability to prohibit fish tanks, or loud parties or having a no-pet policy,” Moore said.

    Moore, who said smoking is not a legally protected right, says he doesn’t know of any successful legal challenges to existing public housing bans.

    Last fall, Philadelphia asked residents about public housing smoking bans during a series of community discussions. Now, public health researchers at Drexel University are set to collect data and conduct interviews for the city to figure out how air quality and residents’ behavior changes when a building goes smoke-free.

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