Student group renews interest in smoke-free campus

Colonials for Clean Air plans to discourage incoming freshmen from smoking within 25 feet of campus buildings as an alternative to pushing an official ban, which would be difficult to implement.

The five-member student organization has attended admissions events, reaching out to prospective students to rally them around their idea of creating a smoke-free campus within four years, public health student Julien Guttman said.

Thirty-seven percent of college-age smokers had never smoked before entering college, according to a report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

“If we can mitigate those risk factors, we could catch a whole generation of people having this really deadly addiction,” Guttman said, adding that it will be hard for the culture shift to take hold.

Guttman says the group, made up solely of School of Public Health and Health Services students, is working with Student Association President Ashwin Narla to target the undergraduate population.

Members plan to meet with executive boards from select student organizations that Narla thinks “would like to be involved.” The group will receive feedback to help them gauge what the students think is feasible with respect to a smoking ban. Narla said they will target student athletes and groups like Green GW, Active Minds and others focused on wellness.

Colonials for Clean Air is also in talks with Associate Provost for Student Affairs Peter Konwerski and Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell, asking GW to change its policy to model the group’s anti-smoking ideas.

Konwerski said a team is working on figuring out “what may be feasible to address and implement, regarding the broad topic of smoking on campus.”

“We all have been approaching these conversations in the spirit of creating the healthiest culture on campus possible, rather than looking at it from the perspective of just enforcing a rule about where to smoke,” Konwerski said.

A Student Association referendum last February showed that two-thirds of respondents supported a 25-foot smoking ban around a building and in public spaces like Kogan Plaza and University Yard. About 20 percent of the student body voted.

While the 25-foot ban was the central part of the group’s agenda last year, Guttman said they know it is hard to enforce and will now focus on creating a culture of student enforcement and using “big signs on every building” until a smoke-free campus becomes accepted.

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said the University is in the process of evaluating its policy of only prohibiting smoking in buildings and vehicles. GW’s policy allows buildings to ban smoking near entrances if needed, but none on campus participate in this option.

“The review is part of GW’s Healthy Campus program in collaboration with the School of Public Health and Health Services, which regularly reviews recommendations toward developing healthier lifestyles among students, faculty and staff,” Sherrard added.

The Healthy Campus plan came out of the Innovation Task Force, a cost-cutting branch of the University, with the hopes that by incentivizing a healthier lifestyle on campus, GW will save $3.5 million in healthcare costs.

The Department of Health and Human Services launched a White House-backed campaign last month calling on schools to ban smoking on their campuses.

The University launched its own anti-smoking campaign in February 2011, offering counseling, a hotline and a website to help students quit, hoping the campaign would encourage a smoke-free campus without implementing a ban.

There are about 774 universities across the nation that are smoke-free, according to the Americans for Nonsmoker’s Rights. The schools are in largely rural or suburban areas.

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