The Smoking Ban & Uncle Sam, the Meddling Landlord

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced last week a nationwide ban on smoking in all public housing developments.  The ban prohibits the use of all “lit tobacco products” (cigarettes, cigars and pipes) in housing units, common areas and within 25 feet of housing and administrative office buildings.  Residents who do not comply with the ban could face eviction, depending on the number of infractions.

Unlike Bloomberg’s ludicrously arbitrary Big Soda Ban and the nonsensical luxury foods ban for food stamps, the rationale for the HUD’s smoking ban is based on sound data. Second-hand smoke is a leading cause of asthma, the most common long-term childhood disease. Studies by the National Center for Health Care for Public Housing Residents have shown hospitalizations and deaths for minority and low-income children are significantly higher than the general population.  On average, children with asthma miss an average of 8 school days a year, which adds another significant challenge for youths trying to pull themselves out of poverty.

The costs of treating people with smoking-related illnesses, repairing property damage and recouping property loss due to smoking-attributable fires is also extremely high. A report published by the Centers for Disease Control in 2014 showed that a smoking ban in subsidized housing would save taxpayers $500 million annually.

Still, there are those who argue that the smoking ban is an infringement of individual liberty. An article on the liberal news site ThinkProgress stated:

Policies that push low-income people into choices that the public has decided are better often draw stiff opposition from poverty advocates. When the government acts like it knows better than individuals and forces them to behave a certain way or lose access to safety net benefits, it can infringe both on poor people’s dignity and the very independence that poverty program critics tout as essential.

I agree that the government should not be infringing on personal lifestyle choices. For example, if I want to buy a soda the size of a toddler with my own money, that’s my own business.  But one can’t argue for the necessity of the Nanny State and then object when the Nanny makes rules you don’t like.

New York public housing resident of 44 years Luis Torres who (not coincidentally) has a son who suffers from asthma, told USA Today that he doesn’t think the ban should apply to residences.

That's private. You can do everything you want in your apartment. Not what the government say. If you get sex with your wife, they're going to check your sex too? No way.

Except it’s not your apartment, Mr. Torres. Your landlord is Uncle Sam and he says that you’re not allowed to kill yourself and your unfortunate offspring in the slow and perfectly legal manner of smoking. Once you trade individual liberty for the safety of the cradle to grave Nanny State, it’s gone. If you want to do whatever you want at home, then save that $4,600 per year that you’re currently spending on your smoking habit and put it towards getting an apartment that isn’t paid for by the state.