EDITORIAL: Smoking Ban Needs Nuance

Since the beginning of October, two students, Mac Williams (NHS ’17) and Georgetown University Student Association Senator Henry Callander (COL ’18) launched a petition to hold a student-wide referendum to ban any type of smoking on campus. The Smoke Free Georgetown petition itself is very short, with the simple description on its Google form: “Let’s make Georgetown a smoke free campus.”

Currently, the procedure for creating a referendum requires the Georgetown University Student Association senate to vote in a majority supporting the referendum. A senate vote is expected to occur Sunday following the collection of 300 signatures to the Smoke Free Georgetown petition.

Proponents of the smoke-free petition point to the health risks of smoking tobacco and nontobacco products, both to smokers and nonsmokers afflicted by second-hand smoke. Along with a smoke-free Georgetown petition, the university is planning to become tobacco-free, according to Associate Vice President for Benefits and Chief Benefits Officer Charles DeSantis in an interview with The Hoya. If Georgetown University becomes smoke-free, it would join institutions such as Harvard University, Yale University and the University of California system.

Regardless of individual positions on a referendum, it is important this process be as open, transparent and fair to all parties as possible. When discussing any policy that would significantly alter campus life — regardless of whether one believes that change is good or bad — unilateral action should be avoided and students must comprehend the issue. There should be outlets and commitments to understand the issue further before a referendum takes place, whether through greater engagement with GUSA and the administration or a commitment to gather data on the practice of smoking on campus.

According to the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, there are 1,713 college campuses in the United States that are 100 percent smoke-free, including tobacco, vaporizers and other electronic cigarettes. This figure presents a significant uptick in bans since 2010, when 446 campuses were listed as smoke-free.

The argument to ban tobacco is based on smoking’s significant long-term health risks, including lung and throat cancer. But a smoke-free Georgetown would mean that all products, including vaporizers and electronic cigarettes that potentially pose less danger than tobacco, would be banned. A greater number of young Americans is using these alternative products over tobacco — 3 million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2015, according to the Center for Disease Control — so the Georgetown community must consider if it wants to take a leap in smoking policy rather than incremental steps.

GUSA is responsible for representing the views and concerns of the student body, so the organization is certainly in a position to build a greater deal of individual input into the discussion. It will be the senators’ votes that ultimately allow for the referendum to take place.

It is admirable that a Hoya Roundtable to explore a smoke free campus has already been scheduled for Oct. 24, allowing students to voice their concerns and questions, an example of our community practicing dialogue in action.

Yet, in the long term, to further understand the issue, the university and GUSA should initiate a survey to gather concrete data on the prevalence of smoking on campus, just as they did with information concerning participation in Greek life or other issues of concern like the Sexual Assault Climate Survey. Whatever initiatives it chooses, our community should not be rushing into this referendum without a complete understanding of how it could affect individuals, smokers and nonsmokers alike.

Regardless of one’s opinion on the smoke-free campaign, each student must consider the nuances and consequences of current and potential policies before choosing to participate in a possible referendum. GUSA, the Smoke Free Georgetown campaign, and proponents of maintaining on-campus smoking should work to educate students on the various stances of each group, the procedures that will affect this referendum and what they can do to make their voices heard. Such should be accomplished before any campus-wide vote on the matter.

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  1. One such “outlet and community” to understand the issue before the vote on a referendum even takes place, and an excellent place for students to share their opinions is weekly Senate meetings, all of which include public comment periods.

  2. Jasmin Ouseph says:

    Maybe the concept of the Senate voting to put out a referendum to the student body isn’t clear enough, but all the Senate is doing is deciding whether or not this should be a referendum. Provided it passes, the student body will simply be polled (likely with a yes/no or yes/no/don’t care option) to gather their opinion on a smoke-free campus. Referenda are not binding, and even if 86% of the student body voted that they would be in favor of a smoke-free campus, that doesn’t automatically mean any administrative change would be made. The Senate is not a policy body.

    The Editorial Board’s suggestion that “to further understand the issue, the university and GUSA should initiate a survey to gather concrete data on the prevalence of smoking on campus” is unnecessary given the nature of the referendum. Not sure what the implications of “rushing into this referendum” are when all it does is ask students if they like or dislike the idea of a smoke-free campus. Referendum are used as climate surveys essentially, not as binding policy tools.

    The Senate is not advocating for a smoke free campus, even though several senators including myself are.

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