Last year, Goucher’s administration announced that smoking on campus would be banned entirely by the Fall 2018 semester. Now designated smoking areas have been set up to phase in the Smoke-Free Campus Initiative.
The decision to become a smoke-free campus was made last November as a reaction to three students with severe asthma being sent to the hospital, as well as complaints from parents of prospective students.
The initiative’s rollout was confusing to some students, who were unsure of the new rules or how the ban was initiated, due to the survey released last semester that gave students the impression that the initiative was simply a possibility, and that they would have a say in this decision.
Below is the transcript of an interview with a student member of the Smoke-Free Initiative Committee, who requested anonymity. This interview will hopefully give Goucher students a window into the decision process and what is to come. The transcript is lightly edited for clarity.
Q: Let’s start with some background on how you got involved with the Smoking Initiative Committee or Group.
Anonymous Student (A): “I was taken to the hospital for a severe asthma attack from secondhand smoke freshman year. Then I was told by Brian Coker that Andrew Wu had put together an initiative to go 100% tobacco free, but he needed student input to do it. So Andrew Wu put together this group. It was already decided by Jose Bowen that ‘yes this is going to happen’.
Q: So Andrew Wu is the one that spearheaded it?
A: Yes. I definitely give him the credit. He put together a group and it was very clear that this was happening.
Q: So there wasn’t a lot of debate involving students, professors, or staff about whether the initiative was going to happen or not?
A: No. There was no debate about it happening. But the debate is the most humane way to have it happen, and the best way to make it so no student feels left behind.
Q: And what was the concern with the “most humane” way to do it?
AS: The concern is that if we take away all tobacco automatically people are addicted to it. If you’re addicted to something like that you’re going to have severe withdrawal symptoms. So we came up with the idea of what if we limit it to certain spaces on campus. But since the 25 ft rule is very unenforceable, we figured out 7 different spots on campus that are accessible, but not in the way of students who don’t want to be around it. So we sat down with a map of campus and those spots were not only decided based on lower traffic, but to also deter people. Because one of the things we noticed in the group, which I think is a pretty big deal, is that according to the survey, a lot of students start when they come here. And if we want to have a healthy campus we shouldn’t have our socializing focus around sitting in a circle smoking cigarettes.
Q: So the goal was to decrease visibility of smokers?
A: Yes. And to help people figure out a different way to become friends. Sitting in a circle smoking is not the best way to build a friend group. And we want to make it less appealing socially.
Q: I’m aware of the health center’s offering of free smoking cessation materials; are you guys expanding on this at all?
A: Yes, we are compiling a list of free, immediate treatment websites to help professors and students quit.
Q: One of the issues around this is the issue of banning smoking on a campus where professors and staff smoke; can you elaborate on this?
A: From what I’ve heard a lot of professors have wanted this for a long time.
Q: Ok, were there any roadblocks you guys experienced?
A: One of the hardest things was figuring out where to put [the smoking areas], and Goucher knows there will be pushback from students. We aren’t trying to get rid of smokers; we’re trying to get rid of the habit. We just want to make sure the students with this addiction are helped.
Q: In your opinion, has this been successful in not making smokers feel excluded or unwanted on campus?
A: I don’t think we received any direct pushback, although it’s pretty clear that students were against it. They aren’t thinking about the health side of it, only the social side, which is hard. Because when you think about the health side of it, yes this is the obvious answer. So yes, there was pushback, but it didn’t stop us from continuing. We tried to make it very clear that this was predetermined. And that’s what students had a hard time understanding. They thought this was up for debate. It wasn’t. It was predetermined, not a choice.
Q: Do you think that the survey distributed last year contributed to students thinking that this was debateable?
A: I do think the survey was a little confusing and made students think “oh this matters,” when the decision was already made. So yes, I do think the survey was not very well-worded. It should have included more “what can we do for you, how can we get you to quit,” however I was not part of making the survey. I think it was an attempt to work with students and get input. But I think the way it was done was counterproductive.
Q: Would students having a firm idea that this was predetermined without their input make them more receptive or accepting of it?
A: I can’t speak for them, but I think my hypothesis would be that they would still be just as upset because they feel like their voice isn’t heard. Our argument is that their voice is being heard, but at the end of the day the administration has to do what is right for the campus. It’s safety first, fun second.
Q: Going back to your point about students who pushback or disagree with it, what do you think the Smoking Initiative Group and Goucher can do to improve the initiative’s appeal to students?
A: I think everyone knows it’s a health issue, but when you’re addicted to something, and you’ve made a social life out of it, you won’t think about how it hurts people. So I think it’s an addiction and they can’t fathom the idea of quitting. But I also think that when you come to Goucher, if you see a group of people sitting smoking and laughing you’re going to want to join in and the way to do that is to start smoking. It’s just a really unhealthy path.
Q: Do you feel that the initiative has been successful so far and having the effect that you wanted?
A: I think for the most part it’s doing well. To me it seems like it works better during the day, but at night it seems that students start to ignore it and I think that they try to be sneakier about it, but we’re working on resolving that with more patrolling public safety officers.
Q: How do you catch smokers?
A: So now we have more officers patrolling, and if you’re a student and see someone smoking, call public safety.
Q: Ok, so next year this will extend to campus becoming fully tobacco free…
A: Yes, tobacco, vaping, e-cigarettes, everything.
Q: Why vaping and e-cigarettes?
A: Well it’s a health hazard, and we can’t give them a loophole. If you give students a loophole they’ll take it. These also have second hand effects.
Q: What do you think will happen once it’s banned? Because obviously you personally want a 100% smoke free campus, but realistically there will always be those who just choose to leave to smoke, or violate the rule. So do you feel that it’ll just become a bigger pain for smokers instead of actually getting them to quit?
A: That was our goal with smoking destinations, as you see they’re not meant to be comfortable, they’re meant to be a hassle. We purposefully made them uncomfortable to make it clear that this was not permanent. These are a way to help you realize that you have to start leaving campus, or you can take the other option and quit.
Q: Do you think that in effect you’re just forcing adults to quit smoking?
A: If it’s an addiction I would argue someone would go to those lengths to do it. I don’t think that people would be logical; if you’re addicted and it feels good in the moment you’ll do it anyways. We aren’t forcing them, but we’re highly encouraging them to quit.
Q: How is this not strong arming students into quitting, if only because of how isolated Goucher’s campus is?
A: That’s fair, but the other colleges that have done this have been successful.
Q: What would your counter be to the argument that this is a further attempt by Goucher to insulate students? Smokers exist in the outside world after all and you can’t isolate yourself entirely from smokers.
A: I think that when it comes to health of the general campus, Goucher needs to take health into account very seriously. Now in the real world I can choose to avoid that. Here it’s really hard, there’s no roundabout I can take. In my neighborhood it’s looked down upon. So I know that when I go home I don’t have to worry about it. I can walk a few blocks and not worry about it.
Q: I’m assuming you’re from a city?
A: I’m from Washington D.C. and a better well off area, so it is looked down upon because everyone there is very well educated.
Q: Do you feel that you achieved your goal?
A: I feel like my goal hasn’t fully be achieved. Because while I would like people to understand the other side of it, like I understand if you’re addicted to it, I think my goal would be to work with the students who feel left behind, because I want them to have a more positive outlook on this. We want to help make you a healthier you, one that can focus on academics and get further in life than having to worry about your health.
Q: Is the amount of criticism stemming from students feeling their freedoms are being taken away?
A: Honestly I don’t understand why people start [smoking] here. I understand if you come here from a place that has put you into that but I don’t understand if you’re here and you’re highly educated why you would do it.
Q: What was the smoking initiative group comprised of in terms of demographics?
A: There were four or five students (all of whom were quitting or had quit) and four smokers who don’t want to quit, but I don’t like using that phrase because I don’t think they necessarily don’t want to quit, they just aren’t ready yet. They’re future non-smokers.