A new student-led group advocating for a smoke-free campus is petitioning the Georgetown University Student Association to hold a studentwide referendum on banning smoking on campus.
Smoke Free Georgetown, which is led by Mac Williams (NHS ’17) and GUSA Senator Henry Callander (COL ’18), launched its petition and Facebook page Tuesday. The campaign is independent from GUSA.
The group hopes the petition will encourage the university to hold a referendum, according to Callander.
“The main purpose behind the petition is to hold a referendum. The idea is that we’re just kind of trying to gauge what students feel about the matter and the issue,” Callander said. “If the student body believes that it’s the right course of action through a referendum, then that’s the course, hopefully, the university will take.”
GUSA Vice President Chris Fisk (COL ’17) said a referendum on the issue will only be held if it passes a GUSA senate vote.
“The senate will vote on whether or not to have a referendum if either a) a senator introduces the topic and calls for a vote, or b) if a petition to call for a referendum reaches 300 signatures,” Fisk wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Currently, university regulations prohibit smoking in any indoor spaces. Smoking is only permitted in designated areas, which have to be away from entrances to minimize the change of secondhand smoke.
The Georgetown University Medical School campus implemented a full ban on smoking in 2014.
In April 2014, students launched a similar petition to make the main campus smoke-free.
However, the Smoke Free Georgetown campaign aims to achieve a complete smoking ban on Georgetown’s main campus. Callander said this would be the best solution and would match Georgetown’s policies with those of many other universities.
Other universities, including Harvard University and The George Washington University, have already implemented complete bans on smoking. Sixty-five percent of schools ban smoking completely, according to Williams.
As of Oct. 1 this year there are 1,713 college campuses in the country with comprehensive bans on smoking, according to anti-smoking advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.
This grew from the 446 smoke-free campuses in October 2010.
“For now, we’ve been talking about going 100 percent smoke-free,” Callander said. “That would be the most effective approach, and that’s what other peer institutions have done. So, we want to follow suit and do the exact same thing.”
As of 2:30 a.m., the Facebook page had amassed 255 likes. Callander and Williams declined to disclose the number of signatures on the petition so far.
Williams said the group was motivated to bring Georgetown in line with peer institutions to create a healthier campus.
“The initiative was started to try and bring Georgetown in line with our peer institutions with the ultimate goal of improving the health of our students, faculty and visitors of campus,” Williams said.
A 2012 surgeon general’s report on tobacco use said secondhand smoking is linked to fetal abnormalities and can exacerbate asthma and pre-existing lung conditions.
GUSA has not been made formally aware of the group’s goal of a smoke-free campus, according to Fisk, but it is willing to take the necessary steps to address the issue if the student body desires.
“The topic of a smoke free campus has not been something formally brought to us, but if students care about it and want to make it a priority, we’ll respond accordingly,” Fisk wrote.
GUSA Senator At-Large Scott Lowder (COL ’17) said he is in favor of a campuswide ban on smoking because secondhand smoke can adversely affect students with health issues.
Lowder said his own experience with asthma has made him aware of the public health issue smoking poses.
“I do believe smoking shouldn’t be on campus. I think the overriding concern should always be the health of the students, especially as a student who suffers from asthma and has actually gotten asthma attacks from direct exposure to secondhand smoke,” Lowder said.
Smoking is a common concern for prospective parents, according to Williams. Williams, who is a Blue and Gray Society tour guide, said many parents of prospective students expressed their concern at the amount of smokers on campus.
For Williams, the personal inspiration for Smoke Free Georgetown was the desire to improve his own health and that of other students on campus.
“I started thinking about this my sophomore year, but I’m also a tour guide. All the time I get questions from parents asking ‘Why do I see people smoking on campus?’” Williams said. “It’s something that’s important to me. My health and the health of my peers is very important to me.”
Callander said Georgetown should emulate other universities in banning smoking and promoting the health of students.
“The entire [Univeristy of California] system and [California State University] system already consists of about 30 to 40 schools. They all went 100 percent smoke-free in 2013 and 2014. You see these public schools have this trend of doing this because this is a very positive initiative,” Callander said. “So we want to take ourselves to the same spot.”
Smoke Free Georgetown aims to allow students with concerns about smoking on campus to express their views on whether smoking should be allowed on campus, according to Callander.
“We leave it up to the student body. We’re literally the messengers and we want the students to be the push. It’s not our place to do it,” Callander said.