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For most people, Saran Wrap is used to keep food fresh, but for Lucius Chiaraviglio ’86, the plastic covering was part of a perennial survival tactic during his time at Harvard.
The former Currier House resident, who is allergic to the toxins in cigarettes, used to cover the exhaust pipes in his bathroom with Saran Wrap to reduce the smoke filtering in from neighboring rooms.
“I got gassed when I was in Currier,” he said almost bitterly.
But just before graduating, Chiaraviglio enjoyed a reprieve from his health concerns. It came in the form of a ban on smoking in public places, passed by the City of Cambridge in February of 1987.
Harvard was tasked with complying with the ordinance, and between signs and house newsletters, administrative meetings and conversations between House Masters, smoking was restricted in many indoor common spaces.
A SMOKER’S RIGHT?
Despite all the regulations, the campus smoking culture did not disappear.
“It was kind of cool back then,” said Salvador A. Litvak ’87, a rower in Adams House who spent hours in the dining hall eating and talking with his teammates.
“If you go to look at movies...you’ll see all the hip people smoke,” added Alice Wolf, a member of the City Council in 1987.
When Chiaraviglio fought to ban smoking in the Houses even before the city-wide ordinance, he was impeded by the “virulent” members of his House Council.
“It seemed like an awful lot of people considered it a civil right to smoke but they didn’t consider it a civil right to breathe clean air,” he said.
Even administrators were nervous about the effects of a ban. When it was mandated in 1987, Mohan D. Boodram, a resident tutor in Currier House at the time, said he and his colleagues were worried that those with severe sensitivity to smoke would use the ordinance to complain straight to the city—rather than the College—about smoke escaping into hallways from private rooms.
“We were really trying to think about every possible contingency,” he said.
However the new restrictions did not entirely change students’ actions. Despite the changes, students probably continued to smoke where they were not allowed, according to Donald H. Pfister, master of Kirkland House in 1987.
THE LAST PUFF
Nevertheless, smokers were a minority—about ten percent of the student population, according to D. Joseph Menn ’87, a former Crimson editor. Many were of what students and the faculty at the time call “high-class.”
Jerome H. Doolittle, a professor from 1985 to 1990, left an ashtray out for students to use when they had conferences with him. Only one student ever took advantage of the offering.
And change gradually took hold.
When Litvak first came to Adams—unanimously remembered as having the highest proportion of smokers—as a sophomore, there were only four non-smoking tables in the dining hall. By the time he graduated, those four tables were the only ones for smokers. As athletes, Litvak and his friends did not smoke, fostering a culture he felt might have contributed to the reduction in smoking tables.
Dunster House was the last to forbid smoking entirely in the dining halls although the ban did not go into effect until 1992.
Despite the changing rules about smoking areas, those who continued the habit could still be seen “clustering outside entrances of buildings,” according to Boodram.
UP IN SMOKE
Many anti-smoking advocates thought the Cambridge ban should be implemented at the state level as well. But while the negative health effects of smoking were widely acknowledged, the most contentious debate, says Wolf, centered on smoking in local restaurants and bars.
“Communities feel competitive in that regard,” she said, explaining that without a consistent ban, eateries worried they could lose business depending upon their smoking allowances.
“You got to be careful to balance,” said current City Manager Robert W. Healy. “Clearly one would always err to the side of public health, but you do have to watch the impact on business development.”
Tommy’s House of Pizza—a popular hangout spot for students—featured heavy smoking that disappeared after the ban, according to Menn.
Restaurants were not the only ones who had to adjust to the new rules. Leavitt & Peirce, a tobacco shop on Mass. Ave, had an upstairs smoking parlor before early 1987. But under the ordinance, businesses that wanted to be smoker-friendly could not allow individuals under the age of eighteen into the store.
For Leavitt & Peirce, which sells everything from antique memorabilia to chess sets, children’s toys, and sports equipment, this was impossible.
“We have to be all ages here,” said Paul J. MacDonald, owner of the store. “It wasn’t a hard decision,” he added of eliminating the smoking parlor.
MacDonald said the biggest effect of the ban was on his cigar business. Customers were less likely to come in and buy a cigar during the winter, he explained, because they could not stay and smoke in the warmth of the store’s interior.
For Michelle M. Durocher, a library assistant in the cataloging department, the ban on smoking in public places signaled a pivotal shift in the smoking culture on campus.
“I remember this vague sense of smoke in the building all the time,” she said of Widener Library. “It’s never really gone.”
She and a few colleagues achieved a “big victory”: a tiny, closet-sized non-smoking staff room. Durocher would thread her way through tables in the big, smoking staff room holding her breath to get to the closet.
Durocher did not have to hold her breath for much longer.
As in Adams House and elsewhere in the College, the smoking and non-smoking spaces ultimately switched.
—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at email@example.com.
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