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A Harlem Neighborhood Pioneers a Smoke-Free Environment


Smoking is becoming a thing of the past in one Harlem neighborhood.


For one East Harlem community, smoking cigarettes is a habit that will not be tolerated anymore.

Located on 110th street between Lexington and 3rd avenue sits the East Harlem Asthma Center, their primary focus is taking care of the children in the area. Of all the children living in East Harlem, a fourth of them suffer from asthma, and a third of those children have families who smoke as well. Local student Jeremy Soto only lives a few blocks away from the smoke free block, but he said that the move to shun smoking on the street will help cut down on problems for children suffering from asthma.

“I have asthma also. When the World trade center was hit, I was one of the people near the area, and it really affected me. I have a family where people smoke a lot, and my family changed their ways of not smoking and my health got better.”

The community enforced ban is the first of its kind in New York City. This ban is a gentleman’s agreement among the stores and residences that surround the Asthma Center. Although there is no rule of law that strictly prohibits the smoking, people respect what the community is trying to do by heeding the signs which adorn almost every store window that read, “NO SMOKING – SUPPORTERS OF THE 110TH ST. SMOKE FREE BLOCK.” To Sheila Toibin, an Ireland native, public smoking bans are something she experienced before back in her homeland.

“At first everybody was angry, but actually it worked to everybody’s advantage. People got used to it, we lived in a cleaner environment, and we saved a fortune on dry cleaning.”

The sentiment towards health and cleanliness does not take precedence over individual liberties for some local residence. The Post Office was the only business in the area that did not agree to the ban, because they didn’t want to hamper their employees’ ability to smoke. Other people were just annoyed by the idea of having to walk as some would argue an arbitrary distance to smoke. Skeptics claim that there is no difference on which side of the street someone is smoking on because the smoking is happening outside. Ex-smoker Kathy Cole, a resident of the area, thinks the ban is an infringement of civil liberties.

“This is a free country; people should be able to smoke outside. It’s ridiculous. If it’s bothering someone and they ask you nicely, you move away, but this is a free country, this is outside for God sake. Give me a break.”

Some concerns that are tagged on by the pseudo-mandate is that local businesses that sell cigarettes will take a hit on their sales, or if anyone will even follow the rule at all. The general consensus from the community and its businesses is the ban shows a positive step for the community. The hope is that the smoke-free initiative the community makes will start to spread outside the borders of the pioneering block.