The harmful effects of tobacco, as well as the addictive nature of nicotine, have been known since the early 1950s. The danger of second-hand smoke has been clear since the ’90s. Yet Georgetown University and Students of Georgetown, Inc. — commonly known as the Corp — have not yet made changes necessary to protecting students.
Despite clear health risks to students and the Georgetown community, the Corp refuses to eliminate tobacco sales, instead prioritizing profit over community health. To keep the university healthy and better serve students, the Corp must stop selling tobacco products immediately.
The Corp has demonstrated an interest in health advocacy before. As recently as this February, the organization was working closely with Relay for Life, a fundraising event for cancer research — all the while continuing to sell cancer-causing products such as cigarettes, Juuls and dip in both Vital Vittles and Hoya Snaxa.
The Corp was founded out of advocacy for students. In 1971, then-student body President Roger Cochetti (SFS ’72) and Vice President Nancy Kent (CAS ’72) founded the nonprofit after Georgetown students were injured when the university authorized police to use tear gas against anti-Vietnam War protesters.
Cochetti and Kent established the Corp “to assert and protect the inherent rights of its members [students] and the community,” according to the website. The Corp’s current leaders should apply their predecessors’ reasoning and protect the right of Georgetown students to a clean, healthy environment.
Georgetown has chosen to dismiss this issue, rather than intervene to improve students’ health. In my work as the policy chair for student health in the Georgetown University Student Association, university administrators have defended their inaction by arguing students should have the freedom to make their own decisions on this matter.
Georgetown’s invocation of “individual choices” as a defense is unconvincing. After all, this line of reasoning has been absent from its campuswide ban on contraception sales. While Jesuit values are understandably at the core of Georgetown’s decision making, perhaps the health of its campus community should be as well.
Smoking is an individual’s choice to make, but inhaling second-hand smoke is not. Second-hand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which have been identified as carcinogens. Since 1964, over 2.5 million adults have died from causes related to second-hand smoke, according to the Center for Disease Control. Georgetown’s failure to clearly indicate smoking areas or enforce their vague smoke-free campus policies, as The Hoya’s editorial board described last week, crudely displays their negligence of this issue.
Georgetown must recognize that their goal of a tobacco-free campus is unattainable if tobacco products are still being sold in university buildings. Tobacco sales on campus also make recovery difficult for those trying to quit smoking. Encountering a triggering cue, like the sight or smell of cigarettes, can bring on cravings that are difficult to resist. Moreover, buying tobacco products is often a spontaneous decision, which often originates directly from cravings. Considering how inadequate and unadvertised on-campus resources are for those trying to quit, recovery can seem like a very lonely process.
The Corp needs to put community health over profits, where it should be. This change, though, may require a stronger stance from Georgetown. The university should also recognize that banning tobacco sales on campus is not the same as banning tobacco use; those who chose to smoke tobacco products can still have the freedom to do so in designated areas.
Major social change cannot occur without a strong stance, and it is time Georgetown demands house rules around smoking on campus, for the good of its students.
Casey Kozak is a junior in the School of Nursing and Health Studies.