Enforcement varies at more than 1,000 colleges that ban smoking

by Anuhya Bobba | Hatchet Staff Writer

A student smokes a cigarette outside Fulbright Hall.
Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
A student smokes a cigarette outside Fulbright Hall.

As GW rolls out its smoke-free campus policy this fall, it follows suit of colleges nationwide that are mostly ignoring the question of how to enforce their smoking bans.

More than 1,000 colleges now prohibit smokers from lighting up in campus spaces, though most administrations, including GW's, stress that they're seeking to create a "culture change" through peer education rather than punishments.

However, there are exceptions. Tulane University slaps violators with a $25 fine – even visitors – while the University of Illinois at Chicago will mark students' records if they are caught smoking multiple times.

GW's policy largely delegates enforcement to the University community, though officials said repeat offenders will be sent to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, Human Resources or the Office of the Provost.

University police officers will also remind passersby of the ban by passing out literature to students, faculty and staff they see smoking.

"I don't necessarily think we're going to tell people, every time you see somebody, tap them on the shoulder. It's just not reasonable," said Peter Konwerski, senior associate provost and dean of student affairs.

Reginald Fennell, a health professor at Miami University of Ohio who has studied campus smoke-free policies, said policies are typically ineffective without "clearly defined" enforcement. He recommended that violators be fined as much as $100, which could be used to fund health programs.

But Konwerski said enforcement is not the University's top priority and highlighted the difficulty of enforcement at an urban campus like GW's, where "you don't know who's part of the community."

"At the end of the day, I don't think [UPD is] looking to go around and catch people smoking. It's not practical for them," Konwerski said. "There's more important security and security things that they need to be doing, and I think we all recognize that."

What approaches do other universities take?

*New York University has sought to balance enforcement with education since instituting its smoke-free policy in 2010.

The policy warns of disciplinary action for violators, but school officials say NYU relies on "peer discipline" to enforce the ban.

"We don't want to be perceived as a police state. There are no fines," Assistant Dean for Communications and Public Affairs Elyse Bloom said. "We want to treat everyone in the community like the adults they are."

Bloom said students or administrators may tell community members to stop smoking on campus, but suggested "exceptions" to the protocol when they do not listen.

*Boston University Medical Campus banned smoking after the Boston Health Commission launched a smoke-free campaign in November 2011, though there are no plans for Boston University as a whole to go smoke-free.

Officials patrol the campus grounds frequently during "smoking rounds" and ask smokers to stomp out their cigarettes, said Maria Pantages Ober, director of communications for the medical campus.

She added that while students abide by the ban, the hospital's patients are less compliant.

"For the most part, it has been successful," she said. "We have instituted different areas at both ends of the campus where if we do see people smoking, we direct them to those areas."

*Tulane University, which is set to go smoke-free in 2014, plans to empower campus police officers to fine offenders $25 per offense.

The ban comes six years after an earlier attempt to ban smoking, which created designated smoking zones. Scott Tims, the director for wellness and health promotion at Tulane, said the policy failed then because smokers were unclear of "what they could and could not do."

He also said that the $25 fine is fair for visitors because the public streets that run close to campus will make it "easier" for them to smoke if they choose to.

*University of Florida outlined strict disciplinary action for its students, faculty and staff, but the school's 4 million visitors per year don't not face any type of penalty.

Student offenders face the student judiciary committee, and faculty that continuously violate the ban can be fired.

The university's Director of Campus Outreach, Florida Bridgewater-Alford, said it decided to rely on word-of-mouth and a "heavily charged" public relations campaign to enforce the policy.

"We also use peer pressure with our students and faculty and staff," she said. "So if they see someone violating the policy, they will feel empowered and encouraged to at least educate that person on how the University of Florida is tobacco-free."

-Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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