Inequality expert calls public housing smoking ban ‘misdirected energy’

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary has proposed a rule to require more than 3,100 public housing agencies across the country to implement smoke-free policies in their developments. Jamila Michener, an assistant professor of government in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University whose research focuses on poverty and racial inequality in American politics, says if federal officials are concerned about health, they should focus their energy on signing residents up for medical benefits and to vote.


Michener says:

“Public housing residents are among the least healthy populations in the country. In an attempt to address this, the federal government is instituting a ban on smoking in public housing. This is misdirected energy. If the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, is worried about the health of public housing residents, it should focus on getting them signed up for Medicaid and registering them to vote.

“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, all states offer tobacco cessation programs to Medicaid beneficiaries. So, in lieu of bans that underfunded housing authorities are incapable of enforcing, HUD should concentrate on helping public housing residents to apply for and remain enrolled in Medicaid. In many states, Medicaid take-up is far below what it could be. Public Housing projects are ideal sites for enrolling beneficiaries. This will do immeasurably more for health than attempting to police smoking habits.

“Another important step: getting public housing residents registered to vote. In states that have not expanded Medicaid, low-income communities need to be as politically active as possible so that continued indifference to the health of low-income communities becomes a real political risk.”

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