Residents stand outside of an East Harlem public housing complex on May 19, 2015 in New York City.
Photograph by Spencer Platt—Getty Images
By Claire Groden
November 12, 2015

Share of Big Tobacco companies were mixed Thursday after news that the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule to ban smoking through U.S. public housing agencies.

Philip Morris (PM) stock dropped 1% as Altria (MO) edged lower, while Reynolds American (RAI) rose slightly.

The changes HUD is proposing would phase in smoking bans to impact the 1.2 million U.S. households living in public housing over the course of 18 months. The proposed ban is designed to “improve indoor air quality in the housing, benefit the health of public housing residents and PHA staff, reduce the risk of catastrophic fires, and lower overall maintenance costs,” according to HUD.

It’s a move that Big Tobacco might have seen coming, since HUD has been encouraging agencies to adopt the ban voluntarily for the past six years. Smoking is already banned in all federal buildings under control of the Executive Branch except public housing.

The proposed rule focuses especially on the potential benefits of eliminating second-hand smoke in the housing units, where, according to the most recent data, 40% of them are home to children. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the lead present in second-hand smoke can leach into children’s bloodstreams and impact their cognitive development. HUD valued the proposed rule’s benefit to non-smoker well-being at as much as $275 million.

“We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially the elderly and children who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases,” HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a statement Thursday. “This proposed rule will help improve the health of more than 760,000 children and help public housing agencies save $153 million every year in healthcare, repairs and preventable fires.”

More than 600 public housing agencies have already banned smoking voluntarily thanks to a years-long push by HUD.

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