In the coming weeks, Georgetown students could have the chance to vote on a referendum calling for a smoke-free campus. Though the vast majority of students at Georgetown do not smoke, we should all slow down and think about what a smoke-free campus would actually mean. This issue is not black and white, and thus, making Georgetown smoke-free will not solve the actual issues at hand and will only place an undue burden on a minority population.
So what happens if Georgetown becomes smoke-free? Georgetown already has a series of regulations concerning smoking on campus in addition to the fact that it is illegal in D.C. to smoke within 25 feet of a building. And yet, late into the night and early in the morning, students still have to walk out of study sessions in Lauinger Library and into clouds of smoke, which is against existing policy.
The solution here is not to ban smoking but rather to enforce the existing rules in Georgetown’s policies. To actually see a change in where people smoke on campus, substantive steps must be taken to inform the Georgetown community of where one is permitted to smoke.
If we cannot enforce the rules now, a campuswide ban seems even more difficult to enforce. The current referendum is also vague as to what a smoke-free campus entails. Would this regulation end at the front gates, or does it extend off campus? In addition to this vague language, the referendum does not consider where smokers would go should the ban be put in place. Just because the university bans smoking does not mean people will stop this practice. Are we to force them to wander off campus just to smoke at their leisure?
As responsible members of the community, we need to take into account the rights of the minority. Georgetown prides itself on being an international community. Compared to many other American schools, we have a significant international population. Therefore, the values regarding smoking in non-American cultures should be taken into account. It is unfair of us to impose such a restriction on a group of people who are trying to find a home on our campus.
The referendum also infringes on students’ health decisions. The current proposal calls not only for a ban on cigarette smoke, but an end to all tobacco usage, including chewing tobacco. Chewing tobacco has absolutely no external effects on others’ health. Its regulation is merely an attempt to force health decisions on the student body. As adults, we should be empowered with the freedom to make basic health choices, such as tobacco use, for ourselves. Neither I, nor anyone else on this campus, needs the administration or the student government making health decisions for students.
It is one thing to seek a healthier community, but this cannot be done through force. If Georgetown wants to sponsor a healthier campus, we should look to further the dissemination of health information, whether it be about tobacco use, eating choices or exercise plans. The best way to encourage positive change is through informing the community and empowering individuals to make choices for themselves.
The Georgetown community needs more than just a yes-or-no vote on the issue of on-campus smoking. Since this issue is not black and white, our referendum should not be either. If we are going to have a referendum, the student population deserves more than two options. We must recognize that students should not necessarily have to inhale smoke when exiting a building, but we should also respect those who do smoke without imposing undue burdens and regulations. We do not need more rules added to the books; rather, we need to find better ways to enforce the ones that already exist.
Hunter Estes is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He is a GUSA senator.