Staff Editorial: Anti-smoking education would be better than ban

The irony of the smoking ban on campus is obvious everywhere from Kogan Plaza to the entryways of residence halls where signs that read “Welcome to our smoke-free campus” become hazed in cigarette smoke.

When officials first instituted the smoking ban in 2013, they had good intentions. But we knew that a ban on an integrated city campus – a campus built within the city with no defining gates or enclosures – would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. Many people who are not students, faculty or staff pass through the Foggy Bottom campus every day, and we can’t keep them from smoking.

The ban operates on a self-policing method and sends violators with multiple infractions to the Office of the Provost, the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities and University Human Resources. Enforcing the ban when there are no set policies for violating it in place is unrealistic.

Media Credit: Cartoon by Grace Lee
Cartoon by Grace Lee

The University wants community members to stop smoking, but the ban has proven ineffective in accomplishing that. Therefore, it’s time for officials to be more realistic and to slowly move away from the ban. While it isn’t necessary to make the transition away from the ban an official move, it just makes sense for the University to take down the signs around campus and reallocate those efforts and resources to educate people on quitting smoking. The University offers a wide array of educational tools on how to quit smoking, but the information isn’t well-advertised.

If officials were serious about the ban, then they would send every student found smoking to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. But we know from walking through campus every day that it doesn’t happen. Other universities are more easily able to enforce smoking and tobacco bans because they are enclosed universities. For example, both Georgetown and American universities have smoking bans and designated smoking areas. However, GW is more integrated into a city with public streets. Not only is it inefficient to try and stop every person who smokes, it’s unrealistic.

Furthermore, the ban always seemed to be more of a public relations move or a way for the University to lower health insurance costs for faculty and staff than a true attempt to make our campus healthier. While trying to curb the amount of smoke on campus is a good idea, an outright ban isn’t the right way to handle it.

Currently, GW is partnered with the Quit For Life program, which is sponsored by the American Cancer Association Society. Quit For Life is available to all students, employees and their spouses for free. The program gives participants access to nicotine substitutes like the patch, gums and coaches who walk participants through the process. It’s great that the University gives the community access to these tools, but people likely don’t know much about them unless they search through the GW “smoke-free” website. And someone might not realize the program’s free until they read through paragraphs of information.

If officials replaced every “no smoking” sign on campus with information on how to quit smoking and how to access the resources the University already offers, it’s likely that smokers would be more inclined to learn more. Of course, a sign on every corner about why and how to quit smoking isn’t going to yield huge changes. But an effort to make the ban an educational tool rather than a shaming system would be a step in the right direction. People who smoke often know it’s bad for them – shaming them for smoking in public is less likely to change their decision-making than free resources and education are.

And there are areas where the University can expand resources it already offers to help students and employees stop smoking. Mental Health Services hosts support groups for students on topics like recovering from a loss, body image and LGBT support. While there are groups offered for addiction and drug use, it would be beneficial to add a support group specifically for smokers looking to quit. Quitting smoking, like any other addiction, is a medical, physical and emotional battle. Students searching for support, or who might not be ready to quit but want to be with people who understand their battle, should have a place to go. We should empower smokers with the resources they need to quit smoking for good, and a trip to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities isn’t going to do that.

Smoking is a public health issue, and of course it is unfair for nonsmokers to have to deal with the side-effects of secondhand smoke. But as members of this community, we have to be realistic in combating this issue. Buying and smoking cigarettes is perfectly legal, and we don’t have gates that cut our campus off from the real world. It’s time to tackle addictions head-on through education.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Melissa Holzberg and contributing opinions editor Irene Ly, based on discussions with managing director Eva Palmer, homepage editor Tyler Loveless and copy editor Melissa Schapiro.

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