University reevaluates campus smoking policy

By CATHERINE PALMER | April 16, 2015

Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger has formed a committee to evaluate the smoking policy at the Homewood and Peabody campuses. The committee plans to either make the campuses smoke-free or to limit smoking to designated outdoor areas.

“We have heard loud and clear from students that they want us to examine this issue further – particularly with regard to the impact of secondhand smoke,” Shollenberger wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “It is standard practice throughout the United States for colleges and universities to ban smoking in buildings, including residence halls. Beyond that, a growing number of campuses have gone ‘smoke-free,’ banning smoking everywhere on campus. In fact, this past August, the School of Public Health began prohibiting all tobacco products in its facilities and vehicles and discouraging their use on all outdoor campus grounds.”

Shollenberger wrote that his committee will be drafting a report to be presented this summer to Robert C. Lieberman, the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, and Daniel Ennis, the senior vice president for finance and administration.

Barbara Schubert, the associate director for the Center for Health Education & Wellness (CHEW), and Fran Stillman, an associate professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, serve as committee co-chairs.

The rest of the committee is composed of faculty and staff from Homewood and Peabody, a graduate student and senior Danae Johnson, the president of Hopkins Kicks Butts (HKB), a student-led anti-tobacco coalition.

HKB initiated the push for a smoke-free campus by approaching the SGA with a proposal in 2013. In response, the University conducted a survey to determine student opinions on smoking.

According to Erin Yun, the deputy to the vice provost for student affairs, the survey showed that although most undergraduates approved of going smoke-free, most graduate students at Homewood opposed the idea.

Freshman Robert Lee, a smoker, said he doesn’t think the campus needs to be smoke-free.

“Quite frankly, no one has to smoke, and no one has to stand beside me while I smoke,” Lee said.

Freshman Holly Tice does not smoke but said she would oppose a ban.

“I think smoking’s bad in general, but I think people have a right to smoke outside,” Tice said. “It is a private university, and I think smokers should be able to smoke outside on campus.”

According to Yun, the University does not currently have a standard policy regarding outdoor smoking.

“The policies that I’ve seen... [say] that there’s no smoking whatsoever in any University buildings,” Yun said. “The president, deans and/or directors may also designate, with appropriate signage, certain outdoor areas, especially entranceways, smoke-free.”

Schubert does not believe the University enforces policies about smoking in designated areas.

“It’s certainly not consistent, I don’t think, across the board,” Schubert said.

Yun said the committee will examine enforcement policies at other schools for reference.

“One of the things that we’ll be working on is benchmarking against other universities that have gone smoke-free to look at what types of enforcement mechanisms they have in place,” Yun said.

According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation (ANRF) website, there are at least 1,543 smoke-free campuses in the U.S. This number includes 1,043 tobacco-free schools, which explicitly ban all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco.

George Washington University (GW) in Washington, D.C. is a smoke-free campus.

The University of Maryland and Towson University are also smoke-free campuses. American University is a tobacco-free campus.

At Towson and American, violators of the universities’ smoke-free policies are subject to disciplinary action. Additionally, Towson faculty and staff are subject to a $75 fine, which they can contest.

Yun stressed that whatever policy is put in place would have to accommodate all members of the Hopkins community.

“This is a process where we have to make sure that all our constituencies are cared for and supported as we go through this,” Yun said.

Alain Joffe, director of the Student Health & Wellness Center, believes that the University should go smoke-free for health reasons.

“If we follow the lead of the hospital and the School of Medicine in making buildings and the campus a smoke-free campus,” Joffe said. “I think hopefully that will be an incentive for people, who are still smoking, to quit.”

He believes there are more student smokers than faculty and staff smokers.

“I don’t have any hard data,” Joffe said. “My guess would be that it’s probably a higher percentage of students if you include students who label themselves as casual smokers or social smokers — ‘I don’t smoke regularly, but if I’m out with friends I might have a cigarette, or at exam times I smoke, but I don’t smoke a lot other times.’”

He said that the center is equipped with resources to help students quit.

“I would say the majority of students who do smoke either... say they consider themselves just social smokers and... don’t foresee themselves smoking beyond college,” Joffe said. “Or you have students who say, ‘Yeah, I know I should quit, but this is a very stressful time for me. School’s really hard.’”

Joffe said health care workers at the center can provide students with alternative options for handling stress.

“For people who say smoking helps them relax, the question is whether they could achieve the same end by using a nicotine replacement product where you’re still getting the nicotine, so you don’t go through withdrawal, but at least you’re not getting all the smoke into your lungs,” Joffe said. “Everybody’s a little bit different, and there isn’t a single method that works for everyone, so we try to meet the smoker where he or she is, in terms of how they think they can best accomplish it.”

Jackie Ferguson, who graduated from Hopkins in 2012, also believes that Homewood should go smoke-free. During her senior year, she conducted a study to evaluate whether or not there was secondhand smoke present in buildings on campus, specifically AMR I and II, Gilman Hall and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library (MSE).

The study, funded by a Provost Undergraduate Research Award, was her honors thesis for the public health studies department. She is currently trying to publish it.

“What we wanted to do is see if because of the undefined smoking policy on the Homewood campus... [smoke got] inside the dorms and inside the Student Health and Wellness center,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson measured airborne nicotine in both locations.

“Nicotine is specific to cigarettes,” Ferguson said. “You will not find another product, except for e-cigarettes now, that will release nicotine into the air, so it’s a definitive marker of secondhand smoke. So we [had] correlations for how much air nicotine there is per secondhand smoke, or really, smoke in general, produced by cigarettes.”

Ferguson placed multiple monitors outside the entrances of all the buildings as well as at various locations further inside the buildings. She also placed monitors inside the rooms of eight resident advisors (RA) in the AMRs, who volunteered to participate in the study.

“For the AMRs, I thought that was particularly interesting because these are student bedrooms. They don’t have an option to leave,” she said. “It seemed like something that Hopkins should be protecting its students from.”

Ferguson said that 87.5 percent of the monitors registered air nicotine.

“That was pretty interesting because the AMRs have no air conditioning,” she said. “So the windows were open, people were smoking in the courtyards, and then [we] were getting evidence that there was secondhand smoke in their rooms.”

Ferguson said she was particularly interested in measuring levels of air nicotine in MSE.

“One of the reasons why I didn’t like studying the library was because every time you tried to enter the library, you actually had to go through a cloud of smoke,” she said. “Walking through the library, it occurred to me that smoke immediately outside the doors, you can still smell the smoke inside. I wanted to really quantify how far it was getting in.”

Ferguson said she measured levels in MSE in the winter.

“I chose winter specifically because I wanted to see [what it was like during] finals, when people were smoking right outside and when the occupancy of the library was the highest,” Ferguson said.

According to Ferguson, in addition to the aboveground M and Q Levels, the four lower levels of the library that are underground and windowless picked up significant levels of air nicotine. Contrary to what Ferguson had expected, D Level, the level farthest below ground, had higher levels of air nicotine than the other underground levels.

“Since there’s no safe level of secondhand smoke, we recommend the University to make Homewood a smoke-free campus,” Ferguson said. “Despite the enforcement of an indoor nonsmoking policy, the ability to smoke directly outside of buildings causes smoke to seep into the buildings through entryways, windows and ventilation systems.”

Ferguson finds it strange that the medical campus is smoke-free while Homewood is not.

“When you’re trying to make a campus smoke-free, it’s almost easier when the campus has distinct boundaries,” Ferguson said. “The medical campus has public roads going through it; not all the buildings immediately around the medical campus are owned by Hopkins... You would think that the Homewood campus would be easier to make a smoke-free campus.”

Yun said she is unsure of a specific reason why Homewood is not already smoke-free.

Ferguson believes that e-cigarettes should be included in any kind of smoke-free policy the University may implement.

“If you have people who are smoking but then use e-cigarette cessation devices, it’s good,” Ferguson said. “But what we’re concerned about is nonsmokers or people who don’t smoke a lot transitioning to e-cigarettes and smoking more. When you do smoke an e-cigarette, you do aerosolize that nicotine in it, and it does settle everywhere... So the best approach, really, for everyone’s health is just to do a tobacco-free campus, which is cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, everything. And that way, you’re not stigmatizing a particular group.”

GW and American include e-cigarettes in their smoke-free and tobacco-free policies, respectively. Of the 1,543 smoke-free campuses referenced by the ANRF, 633 do not allow e-cigarettes.

According to Schubert, the committee will assess whether or not e-cigarettes should be part of a smoke-free policy if the University chooses to implement one.

Yun explained the committee’s policy priorities.

“We’re a leader in the health care field,” she said. “We need to figure out how we can align our policy with our institutional reputation, but also need to do that in a way that we’re being very thoughtful about all of our students.”

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.