Hopkins Kicks Butts to roll out campus smoking cessation resources

By RUDY MALCOM | November 29, 2018

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PUBLIC DOMAIN The University’s current smoking policy prohibits smoking in specific areas.

Students involved in Hopkins Kicks Butts (HKB) are currently working with administrators to roll out a smoking cessation program that would give University affiliates resources to help them quit smoking. 

HKB introduced the program in response to a survey that the Student Government Association (SGA) conducted in April to determine if the Hopkins student body was in support of a campus-wide smoking ban. With 622 student responses, the survey, created by the Center for Health Education and Wellness (CHEW), showed that around 75 percent of respondents supported some form of restriction on campus tobacco use.

Consequently, HKB is now seeking to offer help and information to individuals who want to stop using tobacco products to further the long-term goal of a smoke-free campus. 

The University’s current policy prohibits smoking within 25 feet of building entrances and in specific areas where “No Smoking” signs are posted. Sophomore Kelly Yaur, however, feels that most people remain unaware of the current smoking policy as it is not strongly enforced.

“I had no idea there was a policy regarding not smoking within 25 feet around buildings,” she said. “Designated [smoking] areas would definitely be helpful.”

Sophomore HKB member Julie Awad agrees, emphasizing that HKB is no longer advocating a blanket ban on tobacco but instead a partial ban. She described Towson University’s smoking ban policy — which fines students who smoke on campus — and explained that a similar policy would not fit with HKB’s goals.

“It wouldn’t be all campus goes smoke-free straightaway; there would be smoking designated areas. You can’t just force people to quit smoking,“ she said. “We were looking at what different universities have done. Towson recently went fully smoke-free, and they have a whole taxing policy... That’s not the environment we want to live in.”

When SGA discussed the idea of a smoking ban at a meeting in 2017, members raised concerns about the impact a ban might have on contract workers who have lower disposable incomes and may not be able to afford cessation resources. SGA Executive Secretary and HKB member Aspen Williams emphasized that HKB would explore ways to connect contract workers with these resources.

She added, however, that the University’s definition of a “University affiliate” does not include contract workers hired through third-party companies like Allied Universal and Bon Appétit. As a result, a University-wide cessation program would not automatically be accessible to these workers.

According to Williams, HKB has been discussing with the administration ways in which such workers could be given access to smoking cessation resources. 

“Bon Appétit people and security people wouldn’t get access to resources, and they’re oftentimes the demographic that needs it the most,” Williams said.

To determine how the cessation program would work, Awad and SGA Junior Class Senator Pavan Patel met with Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka and Executive Director of Human Resources Meredith Stewart on Friday, Nov. 16.

Stewart wrote in an email to The News-Letter that the administration has found a tentative vendor for the future smoking cessation program. According to Awad, the company will sign a contract by March at the latest.

Stewart believes that a tobacco-free campus would bring improve air quality, align with the University’s values and offer a clearer smoking policy. She added that the East Baltimore campuses are already considered smoke-free.

However, she noted that tobacco products are especially hard to quit. Although creating designated smoking areas would accommodate those who are addicted to nicotine, she said, this approach would also have drawbacks.

“Designated smoking areas could be more challenging to enforce given lack of clarity about where smoking is allowed/not allowed,” she wrote. “Also, designated areas are challenging to keep clean and in many cases, they are located in less desirable areas that are unattractive and unpleasant.”

The future program, Awad said, will include a helpline for people who are looking to quit, as well as in-person resources that would provide nicotine patches and the like.

HKB tabled at the Breezeway on Tuesday, Nov. 13 to launch its smoking policy honor system and collect signatures on a pledge to make Hopkins a smoke-free campus.

According to Awad, 75 people signed the pledge. She explained that, under the honor system, students will approach individuals who are violating the current smoking policy and remind them that they are not supposed to be smoking in those specific areas.

“The honor system is a peer-to-peer interaction system in which students go up to other students or faculty or staff and try and empower our current smoking policy,” she said. 

For Yaur and others who are sensitive to secondhand smoke, the honor system has the potential to be quite helpful.

“I’d prefer if others didn’t smoke close to buildings I’m around, at least, just because I have really bad sinuses, so when people smoke around me, it really triggers them, but it’s also their personal lifestyle choice,” she said.

Williams explained that people who smoke may come from different cultural backgrounds, some of which may cultivate smoking habits more than others. She stressed the importance of programming — like the tabling event — to educate students about the various health risks that smoking poses.

“For example, international students tend to come from a culture of smoking,” she said. “It’s important to educate students, because if you came from a culture where smoking is more appropriate, you might not know all the health risks, or you might be more apathetic to the health risks.”

Sophomore Diego Tanton agrees, adding that there exists a greater stigma around smoking on campus than there was in Spain — where he went to high school. He explained that young people in Spain often feel pressured to smoke.

“There is more social pressure surrounding it, due to it being almost a part of the culture,” Tanton said. 

He felt that swaying public opinion away from smoking would be the most effective strategy to reduce smoking on campus. 

Williams agreed, emphasizing that Hopkins, despite having one of the world’s top public health programs, is lagging behind peer institutions when it comes to smoking.

“We’re very behind the curve in terms of having a tobacco-free campus, as well as access to resources for all affiliates, including contracted members,” she said. “We have one of the best schools in the country, so we should also be leading in terms of policies on campus.”

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