The Student Government Association (SGA) is currently in the midst of debating a campus-wide smoking ban.
Although some students support the idea of a smoke-free campus, others believe a ban would infringe upon personal freedoms and disproportionately affect campus workers and international students.
Last spring, SGA failed to pass the Smoking Ban Resolution, which aimed to make Hopkins a smoke-free campus by August 2018. The bill also proposed providing resources to those trying to quit smoking.
This semester, SGA has revised the bill, which is now split into two parts. The first part, which passed 16-4 at SGA’s weekly meeting on Tuesday, establishes support systems for people who want to quit smoking. The second part implements the ban and is set to be discussed at next week’s meeting.
The passed resolution demands that the University provide anti-smoking resources such as nicotine patches, stress reduction activities and a phone helpline for counseling.
SGA Executive Secretary Rushabh Doshi spearheaded the proposal and explained why he split the bill.
“What we’re trying to do as the student government is really try to be supportive of all parties,” Doshi said. “That’s why it was essential to provide the smoking cessation resolution first and the smoke-free Hopkins [resolution] later.”
A major concern among critics of the original bill was that it did not provide sufficient resources for smokers. Doshi said that he and other SGA members who worked on the resolution spoke to smokers to figure out the best way to support them.
“We’re asking them to sacrifice something that could be a big part of their lives,” he said. “One of the key components of this is that we’re not just leaving them dry and hanging. That would be terrible. We’re not just putting a ban and not
leaving resources for them.”
Doshi emphasized that the bill would not require smokers at Hopkins to quit. Instead, the bill aims to educate them on the dangers of secondhand smoke, as well as provide resources to help people quit.
Many students have criticized the current smoking policy because it is not strictly enforced. For example, some students complain that they see people smoke directly outside of Brody Cafe and Gilman Hall.
Doshi argued that an umbrella ban would be easier to enforce than the current rule against smoking within 25 feet of a building entrance.
“Nobody is going to go: ‘Let’s get our measuring stick out,’” Doshi said. “If you have no smoking on campus, it’s much easier to enforce.”
However, he was reluctant to endorse any direct punishments for those who do not follow the smoking policy.
“I don’t foresee a fine coming or any penalties,” he said. “We don’t expect the enforcement to be lax, but we do understand that it’s an adjustment.”
Addressing concerns that the bill ostracizes on campus workers, many of whom smoke, Doshi said he and his fellow bill-writers worked to solicit their feedback.
The resolution also includes a provision calling for the University to provide smoking cessation resources for “all students, workers, and staff.”
Resources to help people quit will also be available to spouses of University affiliates. According to Doshi, the administration approved their proposal.
“There’s a bigger support group if you’re doing it together,” Doshi said. “It really helps your partner and it helps yourself.”
Many students have previously attempted to end smoking on Homewood campus, but with little success. Last year, however, Doshi and other SGA members brought new energy to the proposition.
Working with administrative officials, specifically Deputy to the Vice Provost for Student Affairs Erin Yun, Doshi and other supporters were able to secure funding from the University for smoking cessation resources.
In an email to The News-Letter, Yun commented on how the administration and SGA collaborated to make the smoking bill possible.
“I have been in close contact with a number of SGA representatives to keep them informed about our discussions and progress, and I look forward to continuing our work together,” she wrote.
Yun added that the University is committed to supporting the health and well-being of all members of the Hopkins community. She also confirmed that the smoking cessation program will be available to all students, staff, faculty and family members living with them.
“Such an effort requires us to research our options thoroughly and address the complexity of implementing such a program University-wide to ensure we meet the needs of our community,” Yun wrote.
Yun also explained that the University will not implement policies unless they are confident that they can provide comprehensive initiatives and programs to address the community’s concerns.
“A policy change of this nature requires significant coordination across Johns Hopkins, and we understand it would not be easy for many of our students, staff and contractors,” she wrote.
Hopkins Kicks Butts (HKB) is a student-led coalition that was formed in 2008. The group advocates for national, state, local and University anti-tobacco policies and activities.
According to HKB representative Julia Greenspan, a health education specialist at the Center for Health Education and Wellness (CHEW), it was the first campus group to do so.
In an email to The News-Letter, Greenspan explained that HKB is not working with SGA on the current smoking ban proposal. She stated that HKB reached out to SGA but never heard anything back.
Greenspan also wrote that while a smoking ban would be a step forward, it is not the organization’s ultimate goal.
“If a smoke-free ban was implemented, HKB and the Center for Health Education and Wellness (CHEW) would be delighted, but this would not be the end of our work on campus,” Greenspan wrote. “Providing information on cessation and other tobacco products would still be necessary.”
HKB is not only working to eliminate cigarettes, but also other forms of tobacco.
“Right now we are focused on making campus smoke-free, but after we reach that milestone, we would like to see campus go tobacco-free,” she wrote. “Being tobacco-free is more comprehensive, as it includes other forms of tobacco, like dip, vapes, etc.”
Not all students are in support of a campus-wide smoking ban. Some students, like Junior George Goodfriend, believe it is an intrusion on personal liberty within the Hopkins community.
“People who are adults on this campus have the right to make their own decisions,” he said. “There are a bunch of ways to improve student health that don’t infringe upon the rights of the people who go here.”
Senior Simon Jackson understood the motivation behind the ban but was skeptical of its implementation.
“I’m not against the principle, I just think it comes across as paternalistic,” he said. “I think if it were to distinguish between students and campus workers, I wouldn’t really care. It’d be fine if it were a non-smoking campus but with designated smoking areas.”
Jackson’s reservations stem from concerns over how the ban would affect campus workers who are not involved in student government.
“I just feel like the ban, while it comes from a good place, is really motivated by the students’ experience on campus, as well as the students’ experience of being in SGA,” Jackson said. “[They’re] trying to play policymaker.”
Jackson believes that it is important to incorporate input from members of the community when making decisions that affect so many.
“There’s a very strong interest from Hopkins and Hopkins students to control the environment of the city, control the actions of people that live here but without forming meaningful connections with those people,” Jackson said.
Other critics believe that the bill disproportionately impacts international students, many of whom smoke frequently. Sophomore Barron Chiu, who is from Taiwan, expressed his opposition to the ban.
“A lot of Asians smoke,” Chiu said. “It’s actually really widespread in Taiwan. Most teens smoke in Taiwan. Most of the international students that I know smoke regularly.”
Maintenance staff workers Maxine Thomas and Laverne Farmer believe that the bill would be beneficial for student health, but remained critical. They see the ban as an overreach of SGA’s power.
“I see a lot of people around smoking,” Farmer said. “A lot of students and a lot of professors come out and smoke, too. So I wouldn’t support it.”
Thomas echoed Foreman’s comments and called into question the value of the ban.
“I wouldn’t support it because they’re smoking cigarettes. They’re not smoking anything unusual,” she said.
Instead, Thomas thinks that a good compromise would be creating areas where people who choose to smoke can have the freedom to do so.
Doshi encouraged the student body to comment on the bill and expressed his excitement about its progression.
“It would be good for our school, for our students, and it would live up to the name of our school,” he said.
He reemphasized that the bill aims to promote a healthier campus.
“It’s important to acknowledge that this bill isn’t telling people to stop smoking,” Doshi said. “It is good for your own health, but this bill is not saying don’t smoke. It’s saying for the general welfare of the student body, don’t smoke around because secondhand smoking is very dangerous.”
Discussion on the ban will continue at the SGA’s weekly meetings on Tuesdays in Charles Commons. The meetings are open to the student body.