Students have created a petition to make the main campus of the university tobacco smoke free, coinciding with the convening of a nonsmoking campus working group March 25 regarding the university’s smoking policy.
After the working group’s formation in February, spurred by Assistant Vice President for Benefits and Chief Benefits Officer Charles DeSantis, it held its first meeting March 25.
The meeting comes in the wake of the Georgetown University Medical Center’s campus smoking ban, mirrored at The George Washington University.
“[GWU] has gone smoke free but does not do any enforcement,” Director of Health Education Services Carol Day said. “Essentially, that just means making a statement for where the university stands on the matter. The medical campus is another model, but they’ve been very strict with enforcing standards regarding nonsmoking.”
Students in a Health Promotion and Disease Prevention class at the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, including smoke-free student advocates Kelly Kimball (NHS ’16) and Cailin Grant (NHS ’16), said that they believe the issue deserves more attention on campus because of the health risks associated with tobacco usage.
“We feel that a smoke-free campus would exemplify the Georgetown values of cura personalis and being men and women for others.” Grant said. “Smoking is a huge public health issue. It not only harms those who smoke, but also those who are subjected to it.”
The movement to ban smoking elicited backlash from some students, prompting vigorous debate on the “Petition to Make Georgetown a Smoke Free Campus” Facebook event page, which garnered 244 attendees.
“I would be really disappointed if they decided to ban smoking on campus.” Andrew Shaughnessy (SFS ’16) said. “It’s a personal choice, and I don’t think that the university should go so far as to ban smoking.”
Others recognized the dangers of smoking in certain situations, but also stood by the smokers’ rights to continue doing so.
“Obviously smoking cigarettes inside isn’t allowed because of secondhand smoke, but if you want to smoke outside and not blow smoke into other people’s faces, then that should be allowed,” Juan Luis Tirado (COL ’16), who smokes e-cigarettes because they are less damaging to lungs and vocal chords, said. “I would totally be for support groups for people to stop smoking, but not anything that makes it mandatory, that’s counterproductive.”
Petition organizer Sonya Nasim (NHS ’16) put the emphasis on students enacting positive chance on campus.
“Can we as public health advocates watch the campus allow smoking to negatively impact our community?” Nasim said. “I don’t think banning smoking is the panacea, but it’s a step in the right direction that lots of universities and college campuses have taken.”
Currently, smoking on the main campus is not allowed inside buildings, or within 25 feet of entrances, windows or outdoor air intakes, in accordance with Washington, D.C. laws. There are also no designated smoking areas on campus.
“Georgetown is committed to maintaining an environment that is reasonably free from tobacco smoke,” Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh said. “We are always exploring new ways of promoting a culture of wellness at Georgetown.”
In the past three years alone, a host of other D.C. schools have moved toward banning tobacco or smoking on their campuses. American University and the University of Maryland at College Park joined GWU in going smoke free.
GU Center for the Environment Director Edward Barrows has been involved with anti-smoking efforts on campus for a number of years. He said that his interest in the project stemmed from his desire for clean air and healthy students.
“I’ve been pushing for a smoke-free Georgetown for a number of years now, but up until now there hasn’t really been much progress,” Barrows said. “Last month, I sent a long email to Provost [Robert] Groves. I wonder if this finally started the ball rolling for the formation of the Smoke-free Campus Working Group.”
Despite being confident that smoking will eventually be banned on campus, Day recognized that smoking at Georgetown is a complicated issue.
“I think for the most part, people will be on board with this, but it is a human rights issue.” Day said. “It deals with individual choices, and smoking is not illegal. We’re trying to make it a sensitive campus and not wanting to impede on people’s rights to do that.”