Students ask for smoking ban

A group of graduate students are taking a stand against the billowing smoke outside of Gelman Library by lobbying for a smoking ban in public spaces.

Colonials for Clean Air, comprised of seven students from the School of Public Health and Health Services, is pushing the University to ban smoking within 25 feet of campus buildings. They are also lobbying to ban smoking in public spaces like Kogan Plaza and University Yard.

“All students, faculty and staff deserve access to clean air,” Carly Hamburger, a second-year graduate student and founding member of the group, said.

GW’s smoking policy, which is up for review in May 2012, allows buildings to enforce smoking restrictions near entrances if there are “concerns over air quality or the presence of combustible materials.” No GW buildings currently implement this policy.

The students’ “25 feet for health” campaign has collected more than 400 signatures in an online petition. The group hopes to reach 1,000 supporters before presenting the proposal to the Office of Safety and Security before the existing policy expires.

“Most are on our side and even have ideas on how to make it smoke-free,” Hamburger said about her conversations with University employees.

Dean of Students Peter Konwerski said his staff is working, particularly in the area of student wellness, with the group to determine how to best achieve “a middle ground” for campus smoking and will seek feedback from University public health experts.

“We realize that much of this process may be hard to change or will likely succeed best if it is done in an organic, grassroots, peer-to-peer nature,” Konwerski said.

The group has promoted its mission at the Foggy Bottom Block Party and the GW Employee Health and Wellness Fair. In an attempt to attract more undergraduates, the group will participate in GW’s annual Great American Smokeout Nov. 17 and will lobby at GW basketball games.

Last February, the University launched a “Be a Quitter” campaign, offering counseling and resources to put an end to students’ smoking habits, an alternative to a full smoking-ban.

For the safety and security office to consider rewriting the policy, the group must demonstrate not only feasibility of the new policy, but also support from the community.

“We really want [students] to feel empowered to make this change,” she said.

The group intends to pilot the new policy as early as the spring semester. Approval for the pilots would come directly from buildings and would rely on community enforcement. No University policy can ban smoking on sidewalks or streets, per D.C. law.

Eventually, the group seeks to create an entirely smoke-free campus. Several District area universities, including the University of Maryland and Georgetown University, prohibit smoking within building entrances.

“There are 531 smoke-free campuses nationwide, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities,” Hamburger said.

This article was updated on Nov. 1, 2011 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the Great American Smokeout would be on Nov. 12. It is on Nov. 17

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.