Smoke-filled rooms fit perfectly into old Hollywood classics, but they are out of place on the modern college campus. Students walking into Lauinger Library, however, often have to pass through a haze of smoke immediately outside, and inside, the library doors.

Non-smoking students frequently walk through or by groups of smoking students on their way into buildings. At Lau, for example, smokers often crowd under the overhang, blocking the entrance to the library and allowing smoke into the building every time the doors open. For passersby and non-smokers who spend a significant amount of time in or near the Lau lobby (such as student guards or circulation desk employees), secondhand smoke can be irritating. For those with a high sensitivity to smoke, it could even pose a health risk.

It is not the smokers, however, who are at fault. Georgetown’s smoking policy is not explicit enough to be easily followed or enforced.

Like the broader D.C. law, Georgetown’s policy prohibits smoking in public areas. It states that smokers may only smoke in designated areas and must not “block entrances, transmit smoke into buildings, or cause others to be exposed to secondhand smoke.”

While the policy is certainly reasonable, it is unnecessarily vague. Since it does not specify exactly how far away from doors smokers must stand, it is difficult to discourage smokers from crowding around the entrance to Lau, especially in inclement weather. Moreover, there are no easily visible signs posted in the area instructing students that it is a non-smoking zone.

By addressing both of those issues, the university can make the on-campus smoking policy clearer and easier to actively enforce. The policy should be revised to include a minimum distance that smokers should stand away from doors. Boston College, for example, asks smokers to remain at least 20 feet from any residence hall entrances.

The university ought to also designate a specific spot for smokers outside of Lau that is sufficiently removed from the doors. Placing an ash tray and several signs identifying the area will likely draw smokers to it, and clear up the high-traffic entrance.

Some colleges have taken the more drastic step of implementing a total smoking ban on their campuses. Last year, an anti-smoking group at The George Washington University lobbied for a ban. While a complete ban would be difficult to implement at Georgetown – and unfair to smokers – making the policy more explicit would help clearly define smoker boundaries. The university ought to take a more proactive role in smoking regulations so that smokers and non-smokers alike can avoid discomfort and mixed signals.

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