Smoking ban, zoning laws are further burdens on the poor

The feds want to ban smoking in all public housing, according to The New York Times. A proposed rule, now awaiting public comment, would 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.” Electronic cigarettes are not covered by the rule, “but federal officials are seeking input about whether to ban them.” Marijuana is not mentioned specifically, but the Atlantic’s Kriston Capps checked out the situation in Washington, D.C., which has legalized pot: “According to the city, it’s legal for residents to smoke marijuana indoors. But according to HUD, public-housing residents cannot smoke marijuana inside—even though it’s illegal under D.C. law for them to smoke pot outside.”

Welcome to Two Americas.

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There is obvious good intent behind the ban, but it’s still “nanny state” government. Prohibiting people from smoking in their own homes because of their economic status is stigmatizing and infantilizing. It’s no different than prohibiting the purchase of a can of soda or candy bar with food stamps: a reminder that autonomy is reserved for those who can afford to pay for it.

People with means have moved on to other vices—wines and craft cocktails, fast cars and boats, hiking up mountains in dangerous weather without proper gear—and can look down on more proletarian habits. Smoking should be banned in common areas, and public-health programs should continue to help people quit, but there’s something small-minded about punishing even the special-occasion cigar in one’s living room.

Call this Libertarians Are Occasionally Right Day, for here’s another example of how excessive government could be hurting the poor. At the blog Market Urbanism, Emily Washington reports on the “regressive effects of land use regulation,” including limits on housing density, parking requirements for new development, and historic-preservation laws that serve to keep out new residents. (One possible example: a new ban on multi-story homes in a section of Palo Alto, California, ostensibly to preserve the aesthetics introduced by mid-century homebuilder Joseph Eichler.) Ms. Washington cites research showing that land-use regulations account for more than 20 percent of housing costs in metro areas including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

She concludes:

Policies that increase housing costs have a clear constituency in all homeowners [they keep home values high], but they hurt renters and anyone who is hoping to move to an expensive city. The burden of land use regulations are borne disproportionately by low-income people who spend a larger proportion of their income on housing relative to higher income people. These regressive effects of land use policy extend beyond reducing welfare if the least-advantaged Americans. Additionally, rules that increase the cost of housing in the country’s most productive cities reduce income mobility and economic growth.
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Joseph J Dunn
2 years 1 month ago
Actually, there is a huge difference between prohibiting people from smoking inside their own home and prohibiting people from using food stamps to purchase soda, etc. Whether owned or rented, these dwelling units are the "houses" of the residents. The Fourth Amendment assures "the right of the people people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." That right is sacred enough that the Volstead Act, which enforced the XVIII Amendment's Prohibition of alcoholic beverages, contained an exception: "But it shall not be unlawful to possess liquors in one's private dwelling while the same is occupied and used by him as his dwelling only and such liquor need not be reported, provided such liquors are for use only for the personal consumption of the owner thereof and his family residing in such dwelling and of his bona fide guests when entertained by him therein;". Is that right to privacy now held in such low regard that the government's control of activity (smoking) within one's dwelling is somehow "reasonable?" While the health of minor children in the home may give rise to a public interest, the proposed regulations do not apply only to apartments occupied by children. For a nation so recently disturbed by excessively frequent and expensive traffic tickets, fines, and arrest warrants for failure to pay the same, in Ferguson, shall we now add "smoking in your own home" to the list of offenses that can bring a flurry of new fines? Will repeat offenses in a unit where children are present, give rise to charges of child endangerment and separation of children from parents? The possibilities of unintended consequences seem vast in comparison to the government's interest in preventing second-hand smoke from seeping through walls and ceilings to nearby units. We should be outraged, not at a stigmatization of the poor, but at an outrageous government intrusion into the homes of Americans.

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