Sucking in carcinogens from someone else’s cigarette is responsible for the deaths of 41,000 nonsmokers a year and can cause sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory problems and reduced lung function in children and increased risk of stroke in adults.

That’s why the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development wants to eliminate smoking from the public housing it administers. This would create a healthier environment, particularly for those most sensitive – children and seniors, who make up a large portion of public housing residents. As well, the agency points out in its proposed rule, smoking is the leading cause of fires in public housing, and banning it would reduce that hazard.

After a two-month public comment period, the proposed policy would require more than 3,100 public housing agencies to go smoke-free in several years. Some agencies already have implemented no-smoking policies in buildings, 21 of the county’s senior citizen high-rises among them.

Naturally, a no-smoking clause could easily be added to tenants’ leases, but that doesn’t mean ensuring compliance in the country’s 1.2 million public housing units will automatically follow. Enforcement may be particularly challenging in newer accommodations, which are more likely to be single-family and small multi-unit dwellings rather than the crowded cluster housing of an earlier era.

It may not be easy, but doing the right thing rarely is. HUD has proposed a necessary change for the better.