New smoking regulations unlikely to affect campus enforcement

New proposed regulations on smoking will shrink the number of people allowed to smoke in the city, but experts say the new laws are unlikely to affect GW’s smoking policies.

Mayor Muriel Bowser plans to sign legislation first passed by the D.C. Council early last month that would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 in D.C., The Washington Post reported. But with universities having their own smoking policies and ways of enforcing them, experts say they don’t anticipate the new rules impacting local college campuses.

Bowser also signed a law last month enacting regulations on smoking electronic cigarettes, banning them inside public buildings, such as bars. The new restrictions on public vaping could take effect as early as next year.

Experts said most universities, including GW, are already smoke-free and would not be affected by new tobacco laws.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an email that officials are unsure if the proposed changes to D.C.’s laws will happen or if they will affect GW.

“It is too early to discuss how any proposed changes to the District of Columbia’s smoking law may affect GW, however we will continue to monitor the pending legislation,” Csellar said.

GW has been a smoke-free campus since 2013. Currently, cigarettes, cigars, pipes, e-cigarettes and hookahs are all banned on campus.

If a University Police Department officer sees an individual smoking on campus, the officer is supposed to explain the policy to that person. If a community member is caught smoking a second time, he or she is then referred to Human Resources or Student Rights and Responsibilities, Csellar said.

Eve Zhurbinskiy, a commissioner of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said although smoking is unhealthy, the choice to smoke should be made by individuals.

“I’m not a fan of this legislation,” she said. “I think it’s very patronizing. If you are old enough to vote, you shouldn’t be prohibited from using a legal product.”

Zhurbinskiy said she thinks the increase in the legal smoking age might create a black market of cigarette dealers selling to underage smokers.

“I don’t think this will make GW more smoke-free,” she said.

Under the proposed law, underage students who purchase cigarettes or those who smoke e-cigarettes outside of campus may face a fine of about $50, though the amount is still up for debate by lawmakers in the D.C. Council.

The original bill brought forward by outgoing Ward 7 Council member Yvette M. Alexander included a $50 fine to underage tobacco buyers, but At-large Council member David Grosso said he would prefer to have the fines only apply retailers selling cigarettes to underage youth.

Experts say most universities already ban all smoking on campus. Megan Arendt, the communications manager for Action on Smoking and Health, said the average college campus is tobacco-free, including the use of e-cigarettes.

“A college campus generally goes further with their regulations because they can be stronger, and they recognize the harms of tobacco products,” she said. “It would be unlikely for them to be more lenient in the city they are in.”

Laurent Huber, the executive director of ASH, said universities’ policies are usually stricter than the laws because of the increased number of smoke-free initiatives college campuses are latching onto.

Seven of GW’s peer institutions have smoke-free campuses, regardless of the smoking laws surrounding the universities. Four are “tobacco free,” which means their policy does not include electronic cigarettes.

“Colleges go beyond the local jurisdiction,” Huber said. “They are more proactive and take steps before policies in the jurisdiction are made.”

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