Julian Castro is not just the current housing and Urban Development Secretary… he’s one of a pair of twin brothers who have been widely touted as a possible VP candidate for the Democrats and a fast riser in the party. He’s also chosen election season as a time to pitch a possible proposal in the public housing arena which is bound to spur some discussion on public health as opposed to personal choice, responsibility and privacy. Should people living in public housing be allowed to smoke tobacco products in their own homes? Big Brother may be thinking it’s time to step in. (Washington Post)

The government is seeking to ban smoking in all of the nation’s 1.2 million public housing units, the latest step in a decades-long crackdown on tobacco products that help kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year.

In its proposed rule, announced Thursday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development would require more than 3,100 public housing agencies to go smoke-free within several years. The agencies must design policies prohibiting lit tobacco products in all living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices and in all outdoor areas near housing and administrative office buildings, HUD officials said.

“We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially the elderly and children who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases,” HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a statement announcing the measure.

There isn’t much discussion remaining in terms of whether or not smoking cigarettes is good for you. It’s not exactly a health program sponsored at the gym. For that matter, alcohol isn’t really good for you beyond a very reasonable amount of red wine.. or so I’m told. Bacon is more of a carcinogen than cigarettes last I heard. Eggs will also kill you sooner or later. But let’s at least give a temporary nod to the fact that smoke is airborne and can be at least somewhat more intrusive, not to mention the lower likelihood of somebody coming up and randomly shoving a piece of bacon down your throat.

With all that in mind, is this something the government should be able to mandate? Even here in New York where the state government regulates smoking in public parks they don’t attempt to say that a homeowner can’t smoke inside their own house. Yet hotels can ban smoking in the rooms they rent and charge huge cleaning fees if you fail to comply. But that’s an overnight rental of someone’s property. If you rent an apartment, the landlord can ask if you are a smoker and possibly take that into account when deciding whether or not to rent to you. They could also charge a cleaning fee for residual smoke against your damage deposit. But they can’t really stop you once you have entered into the contract because it’s established that the rental property has become your home.. or more specifically your castle in terms of the law. What you do in your castle is traditionally your business provided you’re not harming anyone else.

Public housing, however, is funded – at least in part for most cases – by the taxpayer dollar. Does Uncle Sam inherit some new level of control over what you do in your castle in that case? The libertarian in me bristles at the thought. If your rental from a private owner establishes your dominion over your castle, would not the same apply to a public housing unit? It’s something of a gray area between a hotel room and a private rental property.

I tend to lean toward saying that any long term agreement of residency makes it a castle, though they might charge you for the cleaning fee associated when you leave. This isn’t entirely new ground in the legal realm but it could make for an interesting court challenge. Your thoughts?