In September, my wife and I came home from the hospital with a beautiful baby boy. We were excited, we were happy, and we were exhausted. But then, we started smelling cigarette smoke in our apartment, and we were shocked. It was seeping through our walls, ceilings, and floors, with an acrid odor strong enough that we knew exactly when someone in our building was lighting up, and how long they smoked.
My wife is graduating from medical school in May, and she has seen firsthand the tragic consequences of tobacco smoke exposure: patients with chronic pulmonary disease, gasping for air, patients with lung cancer, filled with regret.
The Surgeon General has concluded that there is no safe level of second-hand smoke, and a recent Pediatrics article has shown that children in families with no smoker have a 45% increase in tobacco smoke metabolite if they live in multiunit apartments where smoking is permitted. Our son and other children in Harvard graduate school housing, therefore continue to be exposed to increased risk of asthma, respiratory infections, and sudden infant death syndrome.
We have been in contact with the Harvard Housing Office, but it has continued to prioritize the preferences of smokers, with only a gradual process of phasing in smoke-free housing. Plans for next year permit smoking in 44% of units, with no plans to expand this further in the future.
This obstinate policy has frustrated and flummoxed us. It is unconscionable to us that the preference of smokers has been elevated above our 7-month old child’s right to breathe clean, healthy air in his own crib.
There is no right to smoke, and it seems reasonable for us to expect that our home be free of known health hazards. Furthermore, the Housing Office’s slow, drag-your-feet approach seems inconsistent with the well understood public health danger. If high levels of radon were discovered in our apartment building, would Harvard delay decontamination efforts?
We have started a petition to bring pressure on Harvard to change its policies, and we’ve received hundreds of signatures and encouraging support from students and parents with young children, many of whom have experienced the same problems in their homes.
If you feel as we feel, please take two seconds to join us: //tinyurl.com/HarvardSmokeFreeHousing.
Our son will reward you with hugs and smiles.