Pitfalls of a Tobacco-Free Campus


This week GUSA unanimously approved a student referendum on a smoke-free campus to be held December 1. In principle, the idea of a smoke-free Georgetown is very attractive to many Hoyas. Cleaner air means a healthier environment for all of us, especially for asthmatic students or students with other health concerns. However, as it stands, the idea of a smoke-free campus is not only unfeasible, but it also affects the freedom and lifestyle choices of many Hoyas.

The challenges of a tobacco-free campus became glaringly clear on Monday during the Hoya Roundtable, Exploring a Smoke-Free Campus. Led by Associate Vice President for Benefits and Chief Benefits Officer Charles DeSantis, the roundtable, rather than providing an open discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of a smoke-free campus, transformed into a frantic defense of the policy Georgetown is looking to push through by the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.

The current main campus policy prohibits smoking tobacco inside any building on campus, including residences, and technically bans smoking within 25 feet of any building, in accordance with Washington, DC law. To accommodate smokers, the university has provided designated smoking areas with ash trays for proper disposal, even in areas within 25 feet of buildings such as Lauinger Library and the ICC. The new smoking policy would provide transitional designated smoking areas, as the university looks to pivot to a completely tobacco-free campus. To the dismay of DeSantis and many in the administration, this policy is simply not attainable in the short term for a variety of reasons.

The irony of the push for a smoke-free campus is that the current policy is not even being enforced, which raises questions about just how well any new policy will be implemented. If Georgetown were to implement strict standards in regard to the 25′ policy, there would only be two spaces on campus where Hoyas could smoke tobacco: the center of Cooper Field and the middle of Healy Lawn. Of course, neither of these locations is appropriate. When pushed on this topic at the roundtable, DeSantis had no clear answer, saying that the administration would “figure something out.”

The administration’s lack of clarity and commitment to existing policies shows just how far Georgetown will have to go in order to create a smoke-free campus by next year. Under the guise of openness to varying viewpoints and comments, DeSantis repeatedly brushed off genuine concerns in support of the administration’s current policy. For example, while one can make the argument that cigarette smoking negatively impacts people in the vicinity of the smoker, the same cannot be said for someone who chews tobacco. When questioned about this, DeSantis said that all tobacco would be banned under the policy he is proposing, even forms of tobacco that affect only the user. DeSantis argued that every student will be better off without tobacco use in their lives, and it is the university’s responsibility to ensure the well-being of every student. The administration is even proposing cessation programs to help students end their tobacco addictions.

The administration seems to be in a rush to pass a tobacco-free policy, but we ought to wait for a coherent program that not only helps students who are bothered by cigarette smoke but also accounts for students who use tobacco on a regular basis.

This leads to an important question: is the university responsible for the well-being of the student body as a whole, or is it responsible for individual Hoyas, all of whom have right to choose whether they would like to consume tobacco?

The underlying argument the administration is using to promote a smoke-free Georgetown is the wellness of every student. However, not every student will be better off living on a smoke-free campus. For example, Georgetown accepts hundreds of international and exchange students each year, many of whom are avid tobacco smokers. Many Muslims smoke tobacco because alcohol is banned in their religion. Banning tobacco would limit the ability of several hundred students to practice their culture freely on campus.

Furthermore, since tobacco is highly addictive, many students arrive at Georgetown with physical addictions. We cannot expect every student to halt his or her addiction to satisfy a largely unenforceable policy. While the idea of a cessation program is right-minded, no one should be forced to quit something he or she is freely allowed to do in this country. As the university implements a three-year on-campus living requirement, the administration should consider the effects it may have on students who would be forced to use tobacco off campus during the majority of their Georgetown careers.

The referendum for a smoke-free, tobacco-free campus sounds attractive at first but has many pitfalls we should consider before allowing the policy to be implmented. GUSA Senator Saad Bashir (SFS ’19) agrees: “Voting yes means you commit to completely ridding campus of all tobacco, while voting no actually leaves the students an ability to discuss and come to an agreement that works with all parties.” The administration seems to be in a rush to pass a tobacco-free policy, but we ought to wait for a coherent program that not only helps students who are bothered by cigarette smoke but also accounts for students who use tobacco on a regular basis.

Let’s hold off on making Georgetown tobacco-free instead of allowing that administration ram to an incoherent, implausible policy down our throats. A tobacco-free campus is entirely possible in the future, perhaps when perceptions about smoking cigarettes change across the globe. For now, the university’s vision of a tobacco-free campus limits the well-being and freedom of students just as much, if not more, than the current policy.