A registry for smoke-free apartments

by Beacon Staff • October 10, 2007

The department, as part of a multi-pronged approach to cutting down exposure to secondhand smoke, is planning to launch an online registry early next year in which prospective tenants can search smoke-free residencies.,For students seeking smoke-free apartments next year, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is helping to clear the air.

The department, as part of a multi-pronged approach to cutting down exposure to secondhand smoke, is planning to launch an online registry early next year in which prospective tenants can search smoke-free residencies. Landlords who operate such condominiums or apartments could list their properties on the registry.

"If someone lives in an apartment building now and they don't smoke, they can still be exposed to secondhand smoke by living there," said Donna Rheaume, a spokesperson for the health department. "With this Web site, this registry, they could be assured that the dwelling is smoke free."

The department plans to survey landlords at the end of this year to find out what they would like to see included in such a registry before launching the site, Rheaume said. The department's push to limit secondhand smoke exposure will also include educational outreach programs for children and in poorer communities, where Rheaume said smoking is more prevalent.

Advocacy for smoke-free housing has been rejuvenated in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 percent of residencies in Massachusetts prohibited smoking in 2003, compared to only 40 percent in 1992 and 1993. Other states reflect a similar trend, with the prevalence of smoke-free housing in Maine and New Hampshire increasing by 75 and 94 percent respectively over the same period, the CDC study found.

Junior Molly Milinazzo said she would consider using such a registry once it is operational in part for health reasons, but also to avoid the odor of stale smoke which she said occasionally seeps into her bathroom and stairway from a neighbor's apartment.

"It's pretty important to me," said Milinazzo, a TV/video major. "Obviously health is a concern, and even if you don't smoke but you live in an apartment where someone else smokes, it can still smell so bad."

In general, however, there has not been much demand from Emerson students for nonsmoking apartments, said Elin Riggs, coordinator of Emerson's Off-Campus Student Services office.

"Most students don't ask about it," she said in an e-mail to The Beacon. "They are [often] more worried about finding something affordable or close to campus. I think that the nonsmoking issue is important to parents, but not necessarily a high priority for most students."

Riggs said her office would suggest the registry as a tool for students looking for nonsmoking apartments, which she said generally have better air quality, a lower chance of fires and are in better condition overall.

Sophomore film major Derek Pyle said he feels neither the government nor landlords should be able to regulate where people smoke.

"As a smoker, I would hate it," he said. "You should be able to smoke in your own apartment."

In 2002, tobacco products were reported as the cause of 14,450 residential fires and 550 deaths, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Former Surgeon General Richard A. Carmona outlined similar findings in a 2006 report, stating there is no such thing as a risk-free amount of secondhand smoke.

"The only approach that effectively protects non-smokers from secondhand smoke," the report states, "is a rule making the home completely smoke-free."