University health experts warn about third-hand smoke

Three full weeks into the semester, Student Judicial Services has received six reports of students smelling cigarette smoke in their residence halls.

Although University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said the number is comparable to past years, a GW health expert warns that “third-hand” smoke passing from room to room carries the same dangers as breathing secondhand smoke.

“Ventilation systems and A/C systems do not remove the smaller particles or the gases found in secondhand smoke,” Dr. Vinayak Jha of GW Hospital said.

While the Residential Community Conduct Guidelines ban smoking in all University-owned residential facilities, students still complain of the smell infiltrating their rooms.

“We actually smelled it in our bathroom quite a lot last year,” said senior Heather Barnes, a former Ivory Tower resident.

Barnes said she did not worry about health concerns from the smoke, but she called the odor a nuisance.

“It was pretty bothersome, because we always tried to keep it smelling nice and the smoke didn’t help,” Barnes said.

Smokers who violate University policy are required to meet with GW Housing Programs staff, Sherrard said.

“Subsequent violations of this policy may lead to additional administrative or disciplinary action taken by GW Housing Programs or the Office of Student Judicial Services,” she added.

If a University Police Department officer encounters smoking cigarettes in a residence hall, he or she will file a report, Sherrard said.

While some students interviewed said they did not worry about the health concerns of third-hand smoke, the hazards of consistent exposure are widely acknowledged by the medical community.

“The reason that non-smoking workplace laws have been passed in 27 states and in D.C. is because the evidence is so strong that secondhand smoke causes and exacerbates disease in non-smoking bystanders,” said Dr. Vinayak Jha, an assistant professor of medicine at the GW Hospital.

Jha is involved in an effort to prevent District pharmacies from selling tobacco products because the sales are “inconsistent with the mission of pharmacists and pharmacies and sends an inappropriate message to the public and to children.”

He warned that more preventable deaths are caused by tobacco use than anything else in Washington D.C. and the country.

“If the President of the United States has had some difficulty quitting cigarettes, it’s not because he lacks the willpower,” Jha said. “It’s because cigarettes are addictive.”

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