Facilities employees looking for clarity on smoking ban

One month after GW banned smoking on campus, University employees most impacted by the policy say they have been told little about how it will be enforced.

When asked about the policy, about a half-dozen dining and facilities workers said they believed violators of the policy would face consequences as harsh as dismissal from GW.

“We’re hearing rumors from coworkers, but not from the proper authorities,” Leondre Edwards, a campus groundskeeper, said. “It needs to be put in writing so that all employees know.”

The head of GW’s Human Resources office said the rumors were untrue. But none of the workers interviewed said they’d received official notice from department about the policy, and one employee, Thomas Lavender, said his supervisors told him violators could be suspended or fired after multiple offenses.

Sabrina Ellis, vice president of human resources, denied the existence of a “three-strike policy,” but did not outline specific consequences for policy violators. She said those who continue smoking will be provided with additional policy materials and resources at the end of the policy’s two-month roll out.

“For those that continue to smoke on campus, we will apply a progressive approach through our administrative and disciplinary process,” Ellis said in an email. “It is not our goal to get smokers in trouble.”

GW has made quitting resources – such as counseling, patches and gum – available to students, faculty and staff. Low-income workers are statistically more likely to smoke, according to a nationwide survey by Gallup in 2009: three-quarters of smokers earn less than $60,000 and 53 percent earn less than $36,000.

So far, 27 University employees have signed up for the Quit for Life program GW is offering through the American Cancer Society.

Everson Guerrier, a University groundskeeper and 20-year smoker, said the ban is helping him cut down.

“I suck on lollipops more often now,” Guerrier said. “If I’m thinking, ‘I need the nicotine,’ let me just pop a lollipop and that just stops the craving.”

But without a consistent message about the ban’s impacts, an advocate for tobacco-free policies said the community may ignore it.

“You have to educate and take time and build support and just dropping a policy on an organization immediately raises the question: what will be the consequence?” said Ty Patterson, executive director of the National Center for Tobacco Policy.

Patterson, who has helped urban schools like City University of New York enforce smoking bans, also said administrators are more likely to see a campus culture change if the University explains the health and environmental impacts of tobacco.

Some employees, such as Edwards, added that they weren’t sure how GW officials could enforce the policy – or if they would even try because of the public streets and sidewalks cutting across campus.

“I’m not sure they are going to enforce it and I don’t see how they can enforce it,” Edwards said. “You have public streets, you have public sidewalks, so how can you enforce it?”

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