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Sparking a Debate

Campus | March 6, 2017

Sophomore Liam Knox sees a fundamental flaw in the Tufts Tobacco Free Initiative, a new policy that will make Tufts a tobacco-free campus sometime in the foreseeable future. He is bothered by the lack of communication between Tufts Tobacco Free and the student body. He commented, “I don’t think any attempt was made to gauge the campus climate on the issue before making this decision.”

Tufts Tobacco Free, a student initiative led by Community Health majors, has recently taken major steps toward making Tufts a tobacco-free campus. The initiative began four years ago as a policy proposal in an Introduction to Community Health class. A group of students from the class became passionate about the concept of a tobacco-free campus and formed Tufts Tobacco Free. Nick Nasser, a senior who is part of the student initiative, said that over the past few years, the group has been meeting with administrators, public safety representatives, and student groups. The initiative was never voted on by the Tufts Community Union Senate; rather, Nasser said, it was “given the thumbs up” by the administration.

The group met with TCU on February 12 to discuss how to best implement the policy. While there have been many conversations regarding how a tobacco-free campus would affect students, the impact it would have on the employees of Tufts has not been a focus of the discourse.

The policy has received criticism for unfairly targeting marginalized groups like the LGBTQ community, students of color, and low-income students. Statistics show that all of these groups are more likely to smoke than others. Concerns have been raised that a tobacco-free campus would further isolate these students from Tufts and make them a target for disciplinary action. Knox speculated, “It’s going to physically marginalize certain types of people. It’s an inherently exclusive and classist policy.”

The ban would also affect those who work at the University. One Tufts Dining employee, who requested to remain anonymous, expressed concern regarding what a tobacco-free campus would mean for him. He said, “We’re not supposed to leave campus on our breaks, so that would mean we’re not allowed to smoke at all.”

The employee also explained why he smokes on his breaks. “Smoking is a habit, and it does help reduce stress,” he said. “But it’s also stressful when you can’t have one. Not being able to smoke would make me crankier.”

Sylvia Ofoma, a senior TCU senator and the committee chair for the initiative, said that Tufts Tobacco Free has spoken with Human Resources about this potential problem. Human Resources suggested that employees would need longer breaks in order to have time to walk off campus to smoke. Currently, Tufts Dining employees are given two 15 minute breaks for every eight-hour shift.

Nasser said that because Tufts is a small campus, employees who smoke would likely have enough time during their breaks to get off campus. Knox does not agree. He pointed out that workers at places like the Tower Café would have to walk a significant distance in order to get off-campus. Logistics aside, Knox sees the ban as disrespectful to workers. He emphasized, “They barely have a break anyway and their jobs are exhausting. It shows a blatant disregard for their needs and for their lives and for their opinions.”

Ofoma sees how the ban could inconvenience workers. She commented, “The meeting [about the initiative] was during the snowstorm, and I was thinking, if I worked in Dewick, would I want to walk all the way to Powderhouse in the snow?”

Ofoma believes that the policy shouldn’t target employees. She observed, “Workers smoking isn’t our biggest concern on campus. Most of them tend to smoke in areas that are out of the way where students are unlikely to pass by.” The anonymous Tufts Dining employee concurred. He explained, “I usually try to stay away from the students.”

However, Jane Scoppa, an employee at the Tower Café who smokes during her breaks, said she would not be upset if the campus became tobacco-free. She reasoned, “I’m not opposed to it. If I can smoke, great. If I can’t, so be it. My job is more important to me than a cigarette.” Some employees also see the value of a ban. Another Tufts Dining employee who wished to remain anonymous stated, “I don’t smoke, and the smoke bothers me.”

Tobacco-free campuses are a growing trend. According to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR), there are currently 1,757 smoke-free college campuses. This number has tripled since 2011, when there were 587 smoke-free campuses. The ANR attributes this increase to a change in the social norms around smoke-free environments and support from the academic community.

Tufts Tobacco Free has stated that the ban would not be enforced by the Tufts University Police Department. Ofoma explained, “They want it [the policy] to be as non-punitive as possible.”

Instead, more resources would be provided to students who are trying to quit smoking, and education on the negative effects of tobacco would be increased. Violations of the policy could be submitted online, through an anonymous submission board similar to EthicsPoint, which Tufts currently uses to allow students to report “unethical or inappropriate activity.” Reported offenders would potentially be required to have a meeting with a representative from Health Services.

But the policy is far from set in stone. At the earliest, implementation will begin in a few months. The administration has asked Tufts Tobacco Free to appeal to student groups, in order to get their opinions about the policy.

Tufts Tobacco Free also plans on sending out a student survey in the next few weeks to collect student feedback. Nasser said that the survey is extremely comprehensive and seeks to identify the demographics of people who smoke at Tufts. Ultimately, he wants the policy to be implemented in the best way possible. Nasser articulated, “The policy is not designed to alienate anyone. It’s designed to make us a healthier campus.  If groups feel like they’re not represented in the rollout of the policy, we’d love to have discussions with them.”

Mauri Trimmer, a first-year, feels frustrated with the way the initiative was passed and the lack of details that have been given to the student body. He explained, “It’s really unsettling that any policy could be made official, and that the logistics of how it’s going to be implemented would be figured out later.”

Sophomore Ryan Haddar suggested that initiatives like these should always be voted on by the TCU Senate. Haddar also believes that less extreme action could be taken to make the campus healthier, like encouraging smokers to throw away cigarette butts and respect the rule that requires smoking to take place 25 feet away from any Tufts building. He does not support an all-out ban. He said, “I think it’s a bit tyrannical. We’re pretty smart students, we’re pretty mindful of others, and we know smoking [is] bad. But no one will respect this new rule.”

TCU Senate and Tufts Tobacco Free have discussed the possibility of beginning with small changes, like moving ashtrays farther away from doors, creating programming that explains the dangers of secondhand smoke, and placing “No Smoking” signs on buildings.

Nasser emphasized that students are key to this reform. He stated, “Ultimately, it’s up to the student population to enforce the policy and if they don’t want to, then it won’t be enforced.” Trimmer says that he ultimately does not see the need for a full on tobacco ban. He points out, “We’re a conscious, caring community, so [we] should be able to communicate with people who smoke without placing a huge limitation on their actions. We can have a dialogue instead.”