Should We Ban Smoking In Public Housing?

Ban Smoking -- OurBroker.comIt’s been a big week in the world of real estate and smoking. It’s been announced that the adult smoking rate has fallen to 16.8 percent in 2014, the lowest rate on record and down from 20.9 percent in 2004. At the same time, HUD wants to lower the rate to zero in more than 940,000 public housing units. It has proposed a rule that would ban smoking in all apartments, indoor common areas, administrative offices and all outdoor real estate within 25 feet of housing and administrative office buildings. The move, says HUD, will save $153 million every year in healthcare, repairs and preventable fires.

If HUD had announced the new smoking ban 20 years ago or even 10 years ago you can imagine the outrage which would ensue. There would be claims that individuals have a constitutional right to get cancer of the lungs, throat and brain and that big government should stop interfering with citizen choices. Some would complain that the government is picking on the poor by insisting on rules which do not apply to those rich enough to live in their own homes or in apartment units not controlled by the government.

We’ll probably hear similar objections to the HUD rule this time around  but perhaps far less than we would’ve heard in the past. We now understand that second-hand smoke is real, and that smoking in and of itself is a habit which can lead to terrible consequences.

According to the American Cancer Society in 2014 there were an estimated 221,200 new cases of lung cancer as well as 158,040 deaths. This is a huge and awful price to pay, a horrid way to die, and a tragedy for friends and family.

But if we can agree that people who live in HUD-subsidized apartment units are unquestionably poor you can pretty much bet that they do not have gold-plated insurance policies. The result is that when they do get sick and seek treatment at a hospital in most cases the public pays for it.

Ban Smoking & Help Lower Hospital Costs

The mechanism which makes apparently-free care possible is the humane and well-intended Emergency Treatment and Labor Act. Under EMTALA hospitals cannot turn away would-be patients simply because they do not have the ability to pay for their care.

Instead, what happens is that hospitals rack-up what are called “uncompensated care” costs that are passed on to the rest of us. This is a very big deal because in 2013 the American Hospital Association says such care was worth $46.4 billion. Since poor patients are not paying the bill, uncompensated care costs are redistributed to those who can pay and their insurance plans in the form of higher medical expenses. The result is that a hacking-and-wheezing uninsured person is an expense to us all.

The HUD proposal should go through, not as an endorsement of “big brother” governmental directives but because every effort to reduce smoking levels is good for the people who are saved from the health consequences of cancer and other diseases. Coincidentally, it’s also good that society will not have to bear the financial burden of smoking by those who may not have the insurance or assets to cover their own care.

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