Written by Caitlin McShea
Recently the Megaphone sponsored a survey on smoking and invited all members of the Southwestern Community: faculty, staff and students, smokers and non-smokers alike, to take it. The Student Council will consider the results of the survey as they discuss legislation to create designated smoking areas throughout campus.
After analyzing the results of the survey one thing was made very apparent: The campus is completely torn when it comes to the potential creation of designated smoking areas on campus.
To make things clear, it should be noted that several indoor smoking areas already exist on campus. The current smoking policy, located in the student handbook, is in accordance with the Georgetown smoking ordinance #900558, and outlines in detail the designated smoking and non-smoking areas on campus. As it stands, smokers are permitted to smoke in the following locations:
Smoking is also permitted anywhere outside, so long as smokers “refrain from smoking whenever it is objectionable to others, with reasonableness and civility being the guideline for both [smokers and non-smokers].”
Of the 175 people who took the online survey, 156 (89%) participants said that they did not smoke. And, as far as the creation of designated smoking areas go, less than 1% of participants would like to see both indoor and outdoor smoking areas, 17.1% don’t want any smoking areas on campus, while 71.4% of the participants said that they would like to see outdoor only designated smoking areas.
The campus organization, Colleges Against Cancer, has worked closely with members of Student Council to write legislation regarding smoking areas. All members were likewise encouraged to take the survey, which may have introduced some bias. The members of Colleges Against Cancer are very clearly aware of the health risks associated with second-hand smoke, most importantly that second-hand smoke is a carcinogen. Therefore the members of CAC may very well have influenced the poll results, since so many of those members are dedicated to preventing interactions with carcinogenic substances of any sort.
Another potential source for bias in this survey may rest in the types of participants who took the poll. Of those who participated, 20% were faculty or staff members, and 21% were either Chemistry or Biology majors. After that, English majors were the next highest in participation on this survey, however only 15 out of 175 survey takers claimed English as their major, meaning that English majors comprised only 8.47% of the survey population, and all other majors comprised the remaining 51.53%. Therefore, it should be said that the overwhelming majority of Bio/Chem majors may have influenced the poll results, because those students are more frequently reminded of the health risks associated with smoking and second-hand smoke.
One question asked participants which areas on campus smell most noticeably of smoke. This was an open-ended question, and partakers were encouraged to list all areas on campus that were overwhelmingly smoky.
Not surprisingly, the Fondren Jones Science Building was not mentioned once as an area that smelled noticeably of cigarette smoke. Though the frat houses, the Mood Bridwell Porch, the RAC/KEW, the FAB, the library, the Cove, Korouva, and the upper-classmen dorms were mentioned occasionally, 13% of respondents said that the courtyard between the first year dorms (BC, Mabee and Kurth) smelled noticeably of cigarette smoke, while 27.4% of respondents named F. J. Olin as the building most affected by the smell of smoke. Most interestingly, the majority of participants (29.4%) stated that there were no areas that smelled noticeably of cigarette smoke.
This news coupled with the results of another question, which demonstrated that only 16% of the survey takers claimed no sensitivity to cigarette smoke (53% sensitive, and 31% occasionally sensitive), may mean that the creation of designated smoking areas isn’t necessary. That is, if 84% of those who took the survey state that they are, at least at times, sensitive to smoke, but the majority of those same participants didn’t notice the smell of smoke in any areas on campus, then perhaps the current smoking policy is right on point.
Opinions on this issue vary greatly amongst students. Janet Del Real, President of Colleges Against Cancer, considers the creation of reasonable smoking areas very important to improving the health of all students on campus. In an effort to represent CAC, she has issued a statement addressed to the entirety of the Southwestern Community:
“As an organization, we are associated with the American Cancer Society and share their goal in reducing cancer rates, ultimately stopping cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death among Americans—lung cancer accounts for twenty three percent of those deaths. Smoking has proven to cause and increase the incidence of cancer. We recognize that smoking is an addiction and we don’t expect students to quit instantly, but we want to help them fight this unhealthy habit. I know our campus smokers will feel attacked, but we aren’t attacking them. Rather, we are encouraging them—encouraging them to break behaviors that hurt their physical well-being. Regulating where smoking can occur will help our campus community fight their addiction as well as protect those non-smokers from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. We desire to spread hope for a cancer-free tomorrow and I hope that our campus community will join the fight.”
Ashley Foster, Southwestern Junior and music major, strongly supports the creation of designated smoking areas outdoors. “With people smoking so close to the entrances of buildings, we who do not smoke are subject to their habits in ways that affect our health, our smell, and our allergies against our will. Being a singer, I can say that being exposed to the smoke is particularly irritating because I do all I can to protect my voice… I shouldn’t have to be exposed to something that jeopardizes my future career and health.”
Samantha Belicek, agrees that non-smokers have the right to a smoke-free environment. “Smoking is more than just a personal choice—it’s a verified health risk, and smoking in public makes it a public health risk. I personally want to keep my lungs as clean as possible and don’t even like walking near an area where people are smoking. The smell gets into your clothes really easily, too. If there are designated smoking areas, they should be areas that people don’t usually walk by—not right outside the doors of Olin, for example.”
Some students are more moderate in their opinions. Kristi Brawner, Southwestern first-year, hopes a solution beneficial to all parties on campus is reached. “Second-hand smoke does potentially present a problem for those who don’t smoke. I think the designated smoking areas, if put in all of the places that are convenient for students who smoke, are a great solution to the second-hand smoke. Then, those who smoke would have plenty of places to smoke and those who don’t won’t have to complain about walking through clouds of smoke.”
Meanwhile, Natalie Thaddeus, Southwestern sophomore and Feminist Studies major, hopes that smoking areas will help non-smokers without offending smokers. She feels “that there should be designated smoking sections on campus, because the people who do choose to smoke should be able to easily, while not disturbing the people who do not wish to smoke… I do not want this in anyway to make smokers feel targeted, nor to disgruntle anyone who has to walk into a building and be bombarded with cigarette smoke… This is not a very common occurrence, and the way that the campus deals with it at presents seems to work.”
Others on campus are clearly opposed to the notion of further restricting smoking on campus. Jean Haire, Southwestern Student who recently returned from Spain, thinks that “further limiting the permitted smoking areas will only make smokers angry… When people are enclosed in the same building together and air doesn’t circulate, I think smoking should be prohibited out of consideration for those who are allergic. But in the outdoors where air freely circulates, and no one is forcing you to remain in the same area for a specified amount of time… smokers should have free reign.”
An anonymous survey taker commented that though some smokers block entrances and smoke without regard for passers-by, he or she does not “want the privilege of smoking on campus revoked. Most smokers on campus are considerate of non-smokers.”
Another anonymous staff member who took the survey stated that he or she is “very aware of non-smokers… [and is] aware that others are very disgusted with the smell of smoke, but smoking outside anywhere on campus should NOT be restricted, after all, we are outside!”
Additionally, another anonymous participant who mentioned an allergy to cigarette smoke said that “smoking should be allowed everywhere… Smoking is a personal choice, and if someone wants to smoke, I’m all for it…people should be allowed to smoke where they want as long as it isn’t hurting other people.”
It doesn’t take much to see that this issue has the potential to cause a divide on campus. To clarify, Student Congress has not yet written a proposed bill on the creation of designated smoking areas on campus. Instead the idea of a designated smoking area somewhere between 30 and 100 feet away from building entrances has only been discussed. With winter approaching, the creation of smoking areas that are far from a building’s entrance may not be embraced, but rather it might seem cruel.
Right now, so early in the legislative process, smokers should not fear further restriction and are still welcome to smoke anywhere outside and inside those few designated areas listed earlier. However, in order to maintain that freedom, maybe the smokers on campus should consider the others around them. That said, in order to keep the peace, perhaps the non-smokers on campus should remember that smokers have their rights, too.