University plans for smoke-free campus

GW will become a smoke-free campus by September 2013, banning smoking within 25 feet of campus buildings and in public spaces like Kogan Plaza and University Yard.

The Faculty Senate executive committee and the Board of Trustees both approved the ban last month.

Students who violate the policy will be referred to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, while faculty and staff will be referred to Human Resources, according to planning documents.

When asked what consequences students could face from the disciplinary office, its director Gabriel Slifka deferred to University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard, who said GW was not ready to comment on specifics.

Administrators plan to promote quitting programs as New Year’s resolutions and incorporate awareness efforts into Colonial Inauguration, according to planning documents.

The Office of External Relations will also make how-to guides, videos and “mock tickets” soon after the launch to gain student, faculty, staff and neighbor support.

The graduate student organization Colonials for Clean Air partnered with the Student Association to hold a referendum on the issue last February. More than 66 percent of voters backed the idea of a smoke-free barrier around campus buildings, though less than 20 percent of the student body weighed in.

Julien Guttman, a member of Colonials for Clean Air, called the policy “a dream come true for us.” She said the group has worked hard to get it approved since 2008 – distributing petitions that have collected more than 900 signatures, meeting with faculty and educating the community about the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Director of the Center for Student Engagement Tim Miller, who supported the group last year but was concerned as to how the ban could be enforced, said the community should focus on the new policy’s wellness benefits. He added that despite the 20 percent voter turnout in the referendum, it was fair to implement the policy because students had an opportunity to oppose the ban.

“I hope the students who smoke will still find a way to enjoy what they enjoy – which is smoking – but I honestly hope some of these people will make a choice and not smoke,” Miller said.

GW will formally announce the new policy Nov. 15, coinciding with the annual Great American Smokeout, hosted by the American Cancer Society. Sherrard said the review of the smoking policy is part of the Healthy Campus program, which noted that a healthier pool of faculty could save GW $3.5 million in healthcare costs.

Sherrard also declined to comment if the University will add more quitting programs. GW also unveiled an anti-smoking campaign in February 2011, offering resources and counseling to smokers looking to ditch the habit.

“This is really an initiative stemming from the students – not from the administration or the [Faculty Senate] pushing down onto the student body,” Kimberly Acquaviva, director of Faculty Affairs and a professor in the School of Nursing, said.

She stressed that committee had “no desire to create a culture where people are busted for smoking” and that the primary focus was to make a healthier campus environment.

Acquaviva said she knows that GW, as an urban campus, “can never truly be a 100 percent smoke-free campus because of the people walking through, but we can certainly do our best.” Building managers in D.C. are permitted by law to implement smoking bans in areas up to 25 away feet from a building. GW cannot ban smoking across its campus because of privately owned businesses in the neighborhood.

But the Mount Vernon Campus could become entirely smoke-free since it is all University property, Michael Castleberry, chair of the Faculty Senate executive committee, said.

“Still, the problem is, once you’re entering the Mount Vernon campus, are you going to totally exclude smokers from that environment? These are still questions we need to work on,” he said.

Nearby schools – Catholic, Gallaudet, Georgetown, Marymount and Trinity Washington universities, all ban smoking within 25 feet of building entrances. The University of Maryland will become smoke-free by next summer, joining 825 other campuses around the country.

Student Association President Ashwin Narla said he will convene a group of about a dozen smoking and nonsmoking students to get feedback, because he said “some students will feel marginalized and think the University is being unfair.” He said gauging students’ opinions on this issue is especially important since the referendum didn’t gather a large turnout.

“We want, as the SA, to take their feedback and make sure the administration is taking that into consideration,” Narla said. “We represent every student and there are a lot of students out there that will have negative feedback.”

Acquaviva said that the University pays attention to student voices because their tuition dollars run the school.

“At the end of the day, you are all our bosses, in many ways if you think about it, and during your educational experience, you have put us in that role,” Acquaviva said.

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