Feds to Ban Smoking at Public Housing Complexes

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is proposing a new rule that would ban smoking from public housing complexes nationwide. NY1's Michael Herzenberg filed the following report.

William Alexander Jr. has lived and smoked in the Red Hook Houses for a half century.

The elderly Army vet has been lighting up cigarettes since he was nine. He is furious that the feds now want to prevent smoking inside public housing developments.

"Completely stupid because they're going to spoke anyway. How the government going to watch all these people?" Alexander said. "Make me feel like this is a Communist place."

"Land of the free, you do what you want to do," he added. "Why can't I smoke? I don't smoke in front of nobody. I smoke in my house."

The proposal by the Department of Housing and Urban Development would ban smoking in all living units, indoor common areas and administrative offices, and even outside, within 25 feet of the buildings.

Dr. Elizabeth Garland of Mount Sinai Hospital says the policy will be especially beneficial to children, citing studies showing that as many as 1 in 4 kids in affordable housing struggle with asthma.

"Cigarette smoke is a known trigger for asthma attacks in children and in adults, both the smoker and anyone who is exposed to the secondhand smoke," Garland said.

HUD Secretary Julián Castro said the proposed rule will help improve the health of more than 760,000 children and help public housing agencies save $153 million a year healthcare, repairs and preventable fires.

Many non-smokers and smokers NY1 spoke to in the Red Hook Houses said they agree with the ban for health reasons, but even more disagree because of privacy concerns.

"They're violating our rights," said one person at the Red Hook Houses.

They are concerned about enforcement.

The New York City Housing Authority declined an on-camera interview but admitted that applying the new nuisance violation would present a challenge. How big of a problem? Just ask William Alexander.

"They can come and get me and put me in jail now if that's what it's going to be, because I ain't stopping," he said.

This rule does not take effect right away. There is a two-month public comment period, and then each locale has 18 months for implementation.

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