In response to student complaints about a “cloud of smoke” outside J Street, GW banned smoking on the H Street terrace this semester. Though officials said the ban has severely cut down the amount of secondhand smoke students face when exiting the Marvin Center, some smokers said they are disregarding the rule.
Officials said fire safety and health risks associated with secondhand smoke prompted the new rule. Three “No Smoking” signs now adorn the terrace, where student groups often set up tables to distribute information, and the University removed all ashtrays from the area.
The Marvin Center Governing Board, the student-run body that allocates space and proposes policy changes for the building, has been working to end smoking on the platform since last year, MCGB Chair Zack Beyer said.
Students complained that they “would often have to walk through a cloud of smoke to get into the Marvin Center” and “the smoke would seep into the building because the H Street doors were open all the time,” Beyer said.
MCGB and Marvin Center officials met in February, but the final decision was “held off” until workers completed construction on the Great Hall and re-opened the 21st Street entrance, Beyer said.
After receiving complaints, he said the MCGB “realized how unhealthy and obtrusive it was to allow smoking on the platform.”
Besides second-hand smoke, lighting up was a “safety issue,” said Mike Gargano, Assistant Vice President for Student Academic Support Services.
“We have a lot of banners that hang from there, paper ones announcing (events),” Gargano said. “General patrons to the University were flicking their cigarette butts.”
He said there were “periodic fires” last year, but none that warranted a call to the fire department. In the past, officials have been able to control “smolders” with water or fire extinguishers before they got out of hand, he said.
Gargano also said smoking outside of buildings is visually unappealing to visitors.
“Just take Rice Hall where all the people generally smoke on the steps, and just look at the visitors coming in and out and the ambience that presents,” he said.
Gargano said there are no plans to ban smoking outside all University buildings.
He said Marvin Center employees now inform students of the new policy. No students have been reprimanded since the policy changed.
“We haven’t had any complaints or violations, so at this point we don’t have any (disciplinary standards),” Marvin Center Director Peter Konswerski said. “We will hopefully not have to deal with that. We don’t anticipate any problems.”
Assistant Manager for Marvin Center Operations J.P. Pritchett said, “it will take time (for students) to realize the new policy.”
Some students said they still smoke outside the Marvin Center and have not been told to stop.
Junior Michael Liebsohn said he has continued to smoke on the platform “I’ve smoked there in plain view of multiple (University Police) officers. I’m going to keep smoking as long as (the policy) isn’t enforced.”
Most non-smokers said they are happy with the new policy.
“Most people go into the Marvin Center to eat dinner,” junior Angela Soler said. “You don’t want smoke being blown in your face before you’re going to eat.”
She also noted that some students are allergic to smoke.
Sophomore Melissa Woodward said, “Cigarette smoking always bothered me.” She said it’s a “good change” because she doesn’t like smoke near her.
But most smokers said the ban is unnecessary.
“I wish people would stop worrying about my health,” sophomore Kyle Smallegan said. “It’s just really stupid that people are harping on me (for smoking). It’s just going against my rights to do what I want.”
“It never seemed like that many people are out here at a time, so I don’t see how (smoking) is such a problem,” sophomore Adam Hopkins said. “It’s outside after all.”
The Marvin Center still allows smoking on the third floor terrace and has no plans to change the policy there or anywhere else outside the building, Marvin Center Director of Operations Mike Brown said.
Many students who used to enjoy a cigarette on the upstairs platform said they’ve switched locations to downstairs in front of the Marvin Center steps that lead to the lower level.