The government “smoking police” are at it again. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently proposed a rule that will force more than 3,100 housing agencies in the United Sates to become smoke-free.  Specifically, the regulation will prohibit “lit cigarettes, cigars and pipes in all living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices and all outdoor areas within 25 feet of housing and administrative office buildings.”
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro argues that this will benefit the health of children and the elderly and that it will save taxpayers about 153 million dollars in upkeep and in fire damage to public buildings. Currently, 228,000 public housing units have a smoking ban. HUD’s new ruling will affect the remaining 940,000 units, wherein smoking is still allowed. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy also supports this proposed action.
Of course, these benefits will also have costs associated with them. Timothy Kaiser, executive director of the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association, notes that this rule will make it difficult for elderly and disabled tenants who are smokers.
Moreover, how will this new smoking ban be enforced in private dwellings? Will government officials be allowed to enter into private homes at will to check on tenants?
This is a matter of moral principle. People should be free to choose how they live as long as they are not violating the property rights of others. So, if one lives in a private apartment complex, then the private building owner should have the right to determine the smoking policy of those apartments. However, because government housing is funded by taxpayers, many of whom are smokers who are forced to pay taxes, this new HUD rule could be considered immoral and discriminatory.
The HUD rule treats poor people as stupid children who cannot make decisions for themselves and their families. The government is trying to socially engineer individual behavior. Therefore, both liberals and conservatives should be against this new policy. Liberals oppose welfare recipients being drug tested, arguing that it is an invasion of privacy.  Yet they support the government telling people what they can and cannot do in their own residence with respect to smoking tobacco? That is inconsistent logic. Conservatives argue if individuals are getting government subsidized housing or government benefits, then they should have to play by the government’s rules. But would conservatives be sympathetic to the government pushing liberal agendas or denying conservative students free speech at university campuses because students use federal financial aid? I think not.
Some argue that this new smoking ban will protect children who cannot make decisions for themselves. So, what would they say about arguably irresponsible and foolish “thrill-seeking” parents who take their children hiking along dangerous trails? Or those who take their children rock climbing or whitewater rafting or those who let their children swim in shark-infested waters? What about parents who allow their children to eat unhealthy foods? The real question is: Who’s your daddy? Is it the government? My answer is a loud “No!”
Finally, the moral principle of freedom is also very clear when it comes to private businesses. As I’ve argued before, nobody is forced to breathe in smoke at someone’s house, restaurant, bar, or casino. If one is a nonsmoker, he or she does not have the right to a smoke-free environment in another person’s home, nor should they in a private business establishment. If they want to eat, drink, and socialize without smoke, then they should open up their own business or just stay home.
On the other hand, if one is a smoker, he or she does not have the right to smoke in another person’s house and they should not have the right to smoke in a private business establishment. If they want to smoke while eating, drinking, and socializing, then they should open up their own business or just stay home.
Most people would say that the government should not have the right to tell people what they can do in their own homes. But isn’t one’s residence a “public” place where people come to watch television, eat, drink and socialize? So, why should one’s business establishment be placed in a separate category than one’s residence? In a truly free society, the business owner could determine who his or her “public” is and determine his or her own smoking policy.
In both government housing and private business, the government should not violate individual choice. The responsibility of the government is to be an enforcer and protector of property rights, not to be a federal parent.