Even with no smoking programs, experts say smoking ban is ineffective

Media Credit: Brooke Migdon | Hatchet Photographer

Even with a smoking ban on campus, GW is still not completely smoke-free. Experts said GW's smoking ban does not yet meet the "gold standard."

Updated: Nov. 10, 2016 at 12:25 p.m.

As GW continues to offer resources to employees who want to quit smoking, experts say that the University’s no-smoking policy is not up to par with those at other institutions.

A weekly e-newsletter sent to faculty and staff announced last week that GW will offer a new two-part webinar series on quitting smoking created by Aetna Resources for Living. But three years after the University implemented a smoking ban, smoking on campus remains a frequent sight.

The University’s smoke-free policy prohibits inhalation of tobacco or smoking other substances by any method, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, pipes and hookah. It bans smoking in and around all University buildings, the entirety of the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses and in any University-owned facilities, parking garages and vehicles.

GW’s no-smoking policy relies on a self-enforcing model, meaning that there are no formal reprimands for on-campus smokers listed in the no-smoking policy. Instead, repeated violations are handled by the Office of the Provost, the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities and University Human Resources for faculty, students and staff violations, respectively.

The new webinar for employees is one program started by officials aimed at supporting GW’s decision to go smoke-free in 2013, a move that originally coincided with the American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout.

University spokesman Brett Zongker said that the series will consist of two courses to be held on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1.

GW also offers a hotline for quitting smoking called “The Quit For Life Program,” which is available to students, faculty, staff and their spouses, Zongker said.

Zongker said that other efforts to curb smoking included an increase in the number of signs indicating that campus is smoke-free over the summer.

He declined to provide information on how many employees have been reprimanded for policy violations, as it is a personnel matter.

“Violations of GW’s Smoke-Free policy are handled in the same manner as other policy violations,” Zongker said.

In 2014, the former Vice President of Human Resources Sabrina Ellis said nine employees had been referred to her department for violating the no-smoking policy in the nine months since it was implemented.

As of April 2016, there are 1,713 100 percent smoke-free campuses, and 1,427 of those are fully tobacco free, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. GW is not on this list.

Experts say that GW’s no-smoking policy lacks clear and consistent restrictions essential to the success of such a campaign.

GW’s location in a metropolitan area makes it difficult to police students, with other people passing through Foggy Bottom daily.

New York University, which is also situated in an urban area, cites its tobacco-free policy as applying to the entire campus, without exception.

Cliff Douglas, the vice president for tobacco control at the American Cancer Society who heads the National Tobacco-Free College Initiative, said that although GW’s smoke-free policy is well-intentioned, the finer details of the policy violate a set of national standards and disqualify the University from being listed as a 100 percent smoke-free campus.

Douglas said some parts of GW’s policy bar the University from reaching the “gold standard” for smoke-free campuses. GW’s delineation of only a 25-foot no-smoking zone for all academic buildings on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus keeps the University from being considered completely smoke-free.

“It has to be 100 percent smoke free, you can’t have caveats,” Douglas said.

Douglas said officials at GW have chosen to create what he called a “quasi” smoke-free campus. Compared to leaders in the tobacco-free college campus movement, Douglas said GW still has room for improvement.

“Anytime there’s wiggle room to open policy up and essentially thereby expose passersby to cigarette smoke, the campus is off the list,” Douglas said.

The University of Kentucky has implemented a tobacco-free task force, which trains student and faculty volunteers to engage smokers across campus in discussions about smoking and persuade them to take advantage of resources to help them quit.

The University of Kentucky’s policy is completely tobacco-free and also prohibits use of tobacco products in personal vehicles. It also has a stricter set of protocols for reporting policy violations, depending on whether a violator is a student or an employee.

Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for The Ohio State University, said officials at Ohio State also focus on education and communication, rather than on punitive measures against smoking.

The Ohio State tobacco-free policy discourages smoking in neighborhoods surrounding campus.

“The end goal is fostering culture change across campus,” Johnson said.

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