Editorial: Enforce our current smoking policy

For the past three weeks, the Student Government Association (SGA) has debated lending its support to a campus-wide smoking ban. The potential resolution has reignited debate on campus, pitching some smokers and civil liberties advocates against public health campaigners and anti-tobacco activists.

The University’s current policy requires that smokers stay at least 25 feet away from certain buildings, but it is not strictly enforced. Near the lower-level entrance to the Brody Learning Commons, two outdoor ashtrays are located right next to the door, exposing passing students to dangerous secondhand smoke. Smokers also often congregate around entrances of buildings like Gilman and Mergenthaler Halls, and directly outside the M-level entrance of the library. 

Jackie Ferguson, Class of 2012, conducted a survey on smoking at Homewood. She discovered that nicotine had polluted 87.5 percent of the dorm rooms that she studied in AMR I and II. She also monitored the levels of nicotine in the library, finding that C- and D-levels were the most polluted because smokers were lighting up near the air intake vents for those levels. Because the deep levels of the library are cut off from air circulation, dangerous particulates remain trapped there, endangering members of the community.

The Editorial Board recognizes the danger of secondhand smoke to the public health of passersby, and we strongly encourage the University to enforce its current 25-foot policy. Students and staff who are trying to study in Brody or walk to class should not have to breathe in nicotine.

At the same time, the Editorial Board firmly believes that members of our community should have the right to smoke. There is a difference between encouraging smokers to quit and infringing on their personal liberties by banning smoking on campus.

Many smokers want to quit, and many others want to keep on smoking. It is not the role of the University, SGA or this paper to tell them what to do but rather to support them if they do wish to quit.

Pushing smokers off campus will only serve to ostracize them. Many smokers at Hopkins are international students and campus workers, who are already less integrated into the broader Hopkins community. Pushing these two groups off campus will only reinforce their separation.

Some smokers have been addicted since their early teenage years. In low-income communities, big tobacco has targeted ad campaigns aimed at encouraging young people to smoke. Punishing those people, especially our custodial and dining staff, would only add to the marginalization that they already face at Hopkins.

The Editorial Board encourages the University to move all ashtrays at least 25 feet from buildings but also ensure that smokers are not corralled into cramped areas in obscure locations.

The University and SGA could start a public relations campaign that relays the dangers of smoking. They could partner with the Center for Health Education and Wellness (CHEW) to provide resources, like subsidized nicotine patches, that could help members of the community curtail their habit.

Hopkins has demonstrated its disdain for smoking in the past, divesting the endowment from the tobacco industry in 1991 after a student-led campaign. As a University dedicated to public health, Hopkins should continue to encourage its affiliates to quit smoking but must balance its commitment to the personal liberties of its community members.

In April 2015, the Editorial Board made similar recommendations, but there has been no change. We commend SGA for seriously debating a policy that affects all members of the Hopkins community, and we encourage the University to listen to both sides of the argument when making any future decision.

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