A group of graduate students is lobbying administrators to ban smoking on all University-owned property, but it remains unclear exactly where GW would be allowed to enforce the ban.
Campus for Clean Air, an unofficial student organization created by three graduate students in the School of Public Health and Health Services, is leading the push to extend the smoking ban to all outdoor areas within the perimeter of campus – rather than just inside University buildings and within a certain distance from entrances. The groups leaders – Lindsey King, Chris Carrier and Babak Yaghmaei – say they have conducted meetings with top GW administrators and health experts around the District.
Would you support a ban?
The University’s current smoking policy states that smoking is prohibited in “all University facilities.” It also notes that “individual buildings may have additional restrictions on smoking near the building entrances due to concerns over air quality or the presence of combustible materials.”
The policy is up for review on May 31, and members of Campus for Clean Air want to see the regulations enforced both indoors and outdoors, though GW’s unique location in an urban area has prompted questions about the school’s ability to limit smoking on a public street.
“Since GW has a problem with boundaries, this policy should be enforced wherever a [University Police] officer is able to impose University rules,” Yaghmaei said. While the group said there is a large gray area when determining what is on and off campus, they said they hope GW administrators can help iron out the details.
University spokeswoman Tracy Schario said the University is evaluating whether the ban is a possibility, but she declined to comment on the specifics of this evaluation.
“We are looking at the situation but don’t know where that evaluation will lead,” Schario said, emphasizing that trying to ban smoking across all of GW would be very complicated.
GW Law professor Michael Abramowicz said while the University could outlaw smoking on its own property, banning smoking on public property like streets would be much more difficult.
“I don’t see how GW could regulate what happens on the streets, absent some legislative authorization from D.C. or Congress to do so,” he said.
Abramowicz added that the University might also have trouble preventing visitors from smoking.
“The University may not be able to regulate individuals who are smoking on campus but who are not a part of the University,” he said.
The issue has received more attention in the past month after students at both the Student Association presidential debate and subsequent town hall meeting suggested the SA and University look into limiting smoking on campus.
Campus for Clean Air leaders said they have secured more than 500 signatures in support of revising GW’s smoking policy and plan to engage the SA in the near future. They also noted that 260 college campuses across the country have completely banned smoking, according to a national antismoking lobbying organization.
The trio’s drive to change the policy stems from their hope to minimize the effects of secondhand smoke, King said. Carrier noted that his personal health was a factor as well.
“As an asthmatic, I hate walking to a class through clouds of smoke and don’t think anyone should have to do so,” Carrier said.
John Banzhaf, a GW Law School professor whose lawsuit threats in 2006 led to an amendment to the GW policy discouraging smoking outside of some buildings, said in an interview that GW has a responsibility to revamp its smoking rules.
“According to federal law, people who are sensitive to tobacco smoke are disabled and it is GW’s responsibility to make reasonable accommodations for disabled peoples,” he said.
Banzhaf suggested Campus for Clean Air follow in his footsteps and consider filing a lawsuit against GW to get the University’s attention.
“Places that people walk through or wait in, like campus bus stops, should not have a cloud of smoke that others have to walk through to utilize the facility,” he said.
Arielle Contino, a senior interviewed smoking outside of Gelman Library, said she strongly opposes the revision of the policy, arguing that “smoking is someone’s personal choice.”
King contended that her organization is not attempting to stop smoking or take away someone’s rights to smoke.
“We are only promoting students’ health and the fact of the matter is that exposure to secondhand smoke for four years as an undergrad is very detrimental,” King said.
A study conducted by the American Cancer Society concluded that nonsmokers are 40 percent less likely to become smokers if they live in smoke-free dorms – but only 27 percent of colleges prohibit smoking in dorms. ACS has launched a program very similar to Campus for Clean Air, which is encourages college students to make their campuses smoke-free.
Rob Maxim, a sophomore in the Elliott School, compared GW’s possible policy revision to outlawing alcohol on campus. Though Maxim has been strongly against smoking since the cigarette-induced death of a close family member, he said he does not think a smoke-free policy is pragmatic or possible.
“With streets that are open to D.C. as a whole, it seems an extremely costly and infeasible venture to ban smoking on the entire GW campus,” he said.