GW to post signs asking smokers to back off from buildings

GW officials announced Friday afternoon that they will put up signs outside of University buildings directing people not to smoke near the entrances, conceding to demands in a petition signed by more than 500 students and faculty members that were originally rejected earlier this month.

The University’s decision comes two weeks after GW law professor John Banzhaf, a noted crusader against smoking, sent a letter of intent to sue Fitzroy Smith, GW’s director of Risk Management and Insurance, for rejecting the proposal. The proposal asked the University to ban smoking within 25 feet of buildings on campus, and suggested that GW put up signs outside of all buildings asking people not to smoke near entrances.

Earlier this month the University cited its lack of authority to enforce non-smoking rules on city-owned sidewalks as its reason for not acting on a proposal to put up non-smoking signs on GW buildings. Banzhaf said in an interview Saturday that the proposal never asked for signs with enforcement but just for signs to be put up because they tend to be self-enforcing.

Assistant Director of Media Relations Matt Lindsay said Saturday that the decision to put up the signs was made after taking a longer look at what was proposed. He said he doesn’t think the decision was made directly because of Banzhaf’s threat to sue, but rather because of the amount of support the proposal had from students and faculty members.

“I think without (the lawsuit) it probably would have gone through,” Lindsay said. “I think the initial reaction was there was some resentment for it. As more support grew the University took a longer look at things.”

Banzhaf disagreed and said he thinks the only reason GW changed its stance on the outdoor smoking ban proposal was because of his threat to sue.

“If not, it would be an awful impossible coincidence,” he said. “Unfortunately it takes something like this for the University to do something that they should have been doing all along.”

Lindsay said the process for putting up signage near building entrances will start with GW officials conducting an inventory survey. They will look around buildings and also note where ash trays are placed, also noting if they should be relocated before any action is taken on putting up the signs. He said the wording of the signs or if a specific amount of feet will be mentioned has not yet been determined.

“We want to make sure we do it well and do it right. We are going to take our time,” Lindsay said. “The residence halls will go first – probably by fall we will have the signage up – and we will deal with the rest of campus later.”

While Banzhaf said he was “delighted” that the University has decided to put up no smoking signs and thinks this is “clearly a victory” for him and the others behind the proposal, he said that he will still be monitoring how GW goes forth with implementing the decision – particularly the wording of the signs and how long it takes them to go up – before he withdraws his threat to sue.

“We still have to wait to see exactly what the signs say,” Banzhaf said. He added that he “can’t believe it will take them more than a month to put up signs.”

Banzhaf also said he hopes the University’s implementation of the proposal will be transparent and that it will solicit input from the students. Carlye Austin, a GW graduate student who headed the student campaign for this issue, could not be reached for comment this weekend.

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