The Houston Chronicle reports that the Houston Housing Authority has officially banned smoking at public housing locations throughout the City, as a part of ongoing efforts to promote health among residents. Not only is smoking banned throughout the residences, but it is no longer permitted within 25 feet of the entrance. Secondhand smoke is a big problem in the area, noted Vice-Chair Assata Richards (who also ran for the City Council last year. “Seniors in high rises would really complain about secondhand smoke and how it was creating health problems for them. We really want to be a part of creating safe communities for our residents, particularly our seniors and our children,” Richards said.
KTRK (Channel 13) had more on this story. Specifically, they note that a violation of this new rule could eventually lead to eviction of residents. Additionally, it notes that the Housing Authority bases its new policy not only on the ostensible health of its residents, but because of cost issues. When a smoker leaves the residence, the authority typically refinishes the premises, leading to a higher overall bill. Still, the channel noted that many residents were upset by the new policy.
Oddly enough, because this policy was enacted in a largely Democratic city, the right-wing had a field day criticizing it. They employed lines of reasoning such as personal responsibilities, individual liberties and others to defend the residents against an allegedly overbearing government using nanny state tactics. The irony, of course, is not lost on me, given how hard Republicans typically push for things such as drug tests on welfare recipients. They argue that receiving any sort of handout –be it TANF payments or Public Housing– is a privilege, not a right, and therefore certain strings should be attached.
Another issue that must be discussed is where the Government should draw the line on regulating activities that are perfectly legal. If the true intention of policies such as these are to protect children from secondhand smoke, perhaps the Legislature should look into a bill that would criminalize smoking in the presence of children. While some part of the “Drug testing welfare” debate resonate with me on a purely theoretical level, I cannot say the same for this policy. Smokers do not break the law. If you want to make up the money lost in redoing rooms after a smoker moves out, require smokers to pay special deposits. But to ban a legal activity in the privacy of a person’s bedroom is a fairly drastic solution.