Duques terrace closed because of continued smoking

Media Credit: Photo Illustration by Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor

University officials closed off the Duques Terrace after people ignored warnings to stop smoking there. GW became a smoke-free campus in 2013.

GW cracked down on smokers on campus last week.

The University restricted access to the terrace on the sixth floor of Duques Hall because of continued smoking there, University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt said. He said officials initially tried placing signs warning that the terrace would be closed if people continued smoking there.

“Because smoking continued, the terrace was closed until further notice,” Hiatt said in an email.

The restricted access, which has prevented people from going out on the terrace since Tuesday, is one of the stronger enforcements of the University’s smoking ban, a rule that was put in place in 2013 but has not always been strictly enforced. The ban — which prohibits smoking within 25 feet of building entrances or inside campus buildings — was passed after a Student Association referendum proposing the policy won with 66 percent of the vote in February 2012.

Hiatt said 60 people so far have participated in GW’s “Quit for Life” program designed to help individuals associated with the University quit smoking by covering the cost of the American Cancer Society’s coaching program and nicotine replacement therapy. The program can assist students, faculty and staff in addition to spouses and adult dependents.

GW also provides scripts and talking points for students who would like to explain to someone smoking on campus that it is prohibited.

“While the University does not condone confrontation, if someone sees someone smoking on a GW campus and is comfortable approaching him or her, he or she can politely explain that GW is a smoke-free University and that smoking is prohibited on campus,” Hiatt said.

Omer Qasim, a graduate student who has been a smoker for “a really long time,” said that it’s unreasonable that the University is having students and faculty who smoke quit “cold turkey.”

Qasim said he has smoked in front of the Smoke-Free GW signs around campus and that he has never seen the policy enforced.

“There should be somewhere they can go and smoke if they want to,” Qasim said. “You can’t force people to stop smoking.”

Qasim said smoking is common in other areas of the world including Southeast Asia and the Middle East and the University should keep this in mind while enforcing the ban because of the large population of international students on campus. About 21 percent of undergraduate and graduate students are international, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

The policy’s initial announcement in 2012 led to student protests and staff confusion, who said they were unsure of the consequences for smoking on campus. At least nine staff members were referred to GW’s office of human resources for smoking during the first six months of the policy’s existence.

Vice President for Human Resources Sabrina Ellis declined through a spokeswoman to say how many GW employees have been referred to her office for violating the smoking ban since that time. The online policy states that the smoke-free policy will be reviewed this October.

Michael Leiferman, a freshman who smokes, said he doesn’t understand the University’s logic in closing the terrace to deter smoking. He suggested the University allow smoking in low-traffic areas, like the corner of Duques, instead of having people smoke in front of the door and violate the policy.

He also said University Police Department officers should more actively enforce the ban by issuing fines to students caught smoking in areas where it is prohibited.

“If there is a no smoking policy, then it should be enforced by UPD,” Leiferman said. “There should be smoking areas.”

Nate D’Amico, a junior who said he doesn’t smoke, said he noticed the closure sign last Tuesday and said it was “preposterous” that students can’t go on the terrace. He said officials should have done more to include students in the decision.

“If something like this happens, you have to leave it to the discussion of the students,” D’Amico said. “It isn’t reasonable to say, ‘Sorry, you can’t do that here.’”

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