Expect to see more people milling about and smoking outside of U.S. public housing projects as the federal government moves towards banning smoking in all public housing. The legislation will require homes, communal areas and administrative offices on public housing land to be smoke-free.

Government officials argue that the ban is a safety necessity to reduce fire risk, protect residents from secondhand smoke and lower building maintenance costs.

However, even before the government goes through all the steps needed to get the legislation approved, some public housing residents are up in arms, saying it will infringe on their rights to make personal life choices. They are arguing that as long as they pay their rent, they can do whatever they like in their homes.

The ban is already being enforced voluntarily by many U.S. public housing agencies, which provide subsidized housing for low income people.

The 400,000 people living in New York City Housing Authority homes are expected to be the most vocal of those opposing a smoking ban.

The executive director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, Sunia Zaterman, says, “It’s a fraught process because to do it properly you need community buy-in. To do this successfully it can’t be a top-down edict because you want people to comply with the policy.”

However, the council says smoking bans have become more accepted and even popular over time as the number of smoking tenants drop and more people have come to expect smoke-free areas.

Patrick Kwan, director of NYC Smoke-Free, says, “This is a health equity issue. For people living in public housing and who are subjected to secondhand smoke, the only option is to be at the mercy of their neighbors who smoke in their homes. People who can afford it choose a smoke-free unit. Smoke-free housing shouldn’t only be for the wealthy and privileged.”

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