Senate to Address Smoke-Free Referendum

jinwoo chong/the hoya The university is undertaking a process to make Georgetown a tobacco-free campus by the 2017-2018 academic year.

jinwoo chong/the hoya
The university is undertaking a process to make Georgetown a tobacco-free campus by the 2017-2018 academic year.

The university intends to plan for a tobacco-free campus by the 2017-18 academic year, according to Associate Vice President for Benefits and Chief Benefits Officer Charles DeSantis.

The Smoke Free Georgetown campaign, which was launched by Mac Williams (NHS ’17) and Georgetown University Student Association Senator Henry Callander (COL ’18) two weeks ago, surpassed the 300 signatures required for the GUSA senate to vote on the referendum proposal.

The senate vote is expected to take place Sunday.

If approved, a campuswide referendum would provide the university with students’ opinions, which would assist the university’s process of going smoke-free, according to DeSantis.

“A student vote would articulate the student position as well as assist in the governance process as it moves through our system of shared governance,” DeSantis wrote in an email to The Hoya.

The current main campus policy prohibits smoking in all indoor locations, including all residence hall rooms, apartments and townhouses. Those who choose to smoke must do so in designated outdoor areas and are responsible for proper disposal of cigarette ashes and butts.

The Georgetown University Medical Center is currently the only smoke-free area at Georgetown. The Georgetown University Law Center has specific smoking locations.

Since the launch of Smoke Free Georgetown, the petition has received endorsements from Georgetown Relay for Life and the cardiac health advocacy group Heroes for Hearts, according to the Smoke Free Georgetown Facebook page.

The petition aims to improve the quality of health in the campus community, following in the footsteps of other universities that have already enacted full smoking bans, according to Williams.

“We’re really trying to align the university with our peer institutions and really just trying to look out for the health of our peers, our faculty and any visitors to campus,” Williams said.

Jonathan Samet, a pulmonary physician and director of the University of Southern California’s Institute for Global Health, said decades of research have established clear links between exposure to secondhand smoke and various chronic illnesses.

“There is about 40 years of work on secondhand smoke and starting with adults it is clear that it is a cause of lung cancer, heart disease and stroke,” Samset said. “Smoking has far and away contributed to disease around the world than air pollution.”

Samset said smoking bans in areas including hospitals and schools have been shown to be beneficial for public health.

“It is clear that smoking bans benefit health of adults and there have been many different studies,” Samet said.

Georgetown University Relay for Life officially endorsed the Smoke Free Georgetown campaign Oct. 9.

According to the Co-President of Georgetown University Relay for Life Kayla Schmittau (NHS ’17), the decision to endorse stemmed from a common goal shared by GU Relay for Life and Smoke Free Georgetown.

“We decided to endorse the referendum because it aligns very well with our mission of trying to increase awareness and health education about cancer rates and secondhand smoke,” Schmittau said. “We decided it was very relevant that we push the campus to be smoke-free so that smoking doesn’t affect people who choose not to but are being put at risk by people who do smoke on campus.”

Students of Georgetown, Inc., which currently sells tobacco products at its storefronts Vital Vittles and Hoya Snaxa, has not explicitly endorsed the Smoke Free Georgetown campaign, but favors a campuswide referendum, according to The Corp President and CEO Taylor Tobin (COL ’17).

Tobin said The Corp is supporting a referendum in order to represent the views of all Georgetown students.

“Every Georgetown student is considered a stakeholder of The Corp. For these reasons, we seek to represent the interests of all members of our campus community,” Tobin said. “The Corp is in favor of a campuswide referendum to enable all students to have their voice heard on this vital campus issue.”

Tobacco smoke contains thousands of different compounds, each with potentially adverse effects on health, according to Samet. Samet said nonsmokers deserve to be protected from these compounds.

“The [Center for Disease Control] says there are 7,000 different compounds in tobacco smoke,” Samet said. “Those who don’t smoke should be free to breathe unpolluted air.”

Schmittau said she hopes GUSA will take appropriate action and hold a referendum on the matter if a majority of students support the smoking ban.

“We hope if the school shows that they support the movement to make Georgetown a smoke-free campus, that GUSA will respond accordingly to meet that desire of the campus and to be in line with the Georgetown values of caring for other people and caring for their health and trying to make time here better for everyone,” Schmittau said.

Hoya Staff Writer William Zhu contributed reporting. 

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  1. It is vital that GUSA hears the concerns of international students and smokers through every step of the referendum process, particularly before this issue is opened up to the entire campus and the potential of a “tyranny of the majority” sets in where the voices of small groups are drowned out. Thus, anyone with a strong opinion on the issue should attend a Senate meeting in the next few weeks to make a public comment, especially if they can’t attend the roundtable.

  2. Ricardo Mondolfi says:

    If you want to make the personal choice to smoke, that’s fine – but you should be the only one suffering the consequences, not those around you. If you want to smoke, get off our campus.


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