Joseph Moody was a bit surprised by the Philadelphia Housing Authority's announcement that his home would become smoke-free on Monday as part of a federal requirement.

But the 36-year-old father of three and resident of the Spring Garden Apartments was OK with it. "I'll just come outside," he said. "I respect that."

Moody, who says he smokes only once or twice a day, said he would like to quit and this may be the motivation he needed. And his kids have been encouraging him to stop, he added.

In February 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that all PHA housing must have a "smoke-free" policy in place by the end of July 2018. The policy extends to living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices, and all outdoor areas up to 25 feet from residential and office buildings.

PHA began a soft rollout of the policy in August 2015 as voluntary. At the time, Philadelphia, with 80,000 public housing tenants, was the largest city in the country to enact such a prohibition.

A sign on a PHA office restricting smoking.
Mari A. Schaefer
A sign on a PHA office restricting smoking.

The policy is an effort to improve air quality and reduce maintenance costs and fire risk. City officials said there have been a number of fires linked to careless smoking over the years.

In 2010, Philadelphia had the highest rate of adult smoking among the 10 largest U.S. cities, at just over 25 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By 2016, that rate had dipped to 23 percent of adult Philadelphians, according to city officials.

Cigarette smoking accounts for 480,000 or one in five preventable deaths in the United States every year, the CDC reported.

Eighteen months after the 2015 voluntary ban, researchers at Drexel and Johns Hopkins Universities found that exposure to secondhand smoke was cut in half. They interviewed residents in 172 households and hung nicotine monitors in dozens of locations at four PHA sites, twice before the ban took effect and once after.

For PHA residents, a fourth violation of the no-smoking policy may result in eviction if ordered by a Philadelphia court. Violations by guests are considered a violation by the resident, according to PHA.

But housing managers will not be acting as smoking police, PHA president and CEO Kelvin A. Jeremiah stated in a news release.

"The goal of the smoke-free policy and procedures is not to evict individuals and families," he stated. "It is actually to provide additional support for cessation, to identify smoking as a real risk to health and safety."

That was good news for Antoine Strother, 29, of Willow Grove, who was visiting family at the Spring Garden Apartments. He believes his relatives should be able to do what they want in their home.

"They do pay rent," he said. "It may be subsidized, but they do pay."

Most residents have not been resistant to the change, said Commissioner Asia Coney, who is also president of the Resident Advisory Broad. There has been outreach to talk with residents, Coney stated in a release.

"We're getting a lot of cooperation," Coney stated.