Campus debates dramatic changes in smoking policy

Cigarette butts on the Cut may soon be punishable by a fine. The Healthy Campus Task Force presented a proposal Thursday that would dramatically change the university’s smoking policy. The suggested changes would create designated campus smoking areas and enforce prohibition through a system of warnings and fines. Smoking would be prohibited in most of the heavily trafficked and residential areas on campus, including the Cut, athletic and child care facilities, and Student Health Services.

The Carnegie Mellon University Healthy Campus 2010 Task Force is composed of students, staff, and faculty. Healthy Campus 2010 is part of a national campaign by the American College Health Association (ACHA) to encourage healthy behavior at colleges in 28 areas, including eating, fitness, drug and alcohol use, sexual behavior, and smoking, among others. Its aim is for colleges to meet specific goals in these areas by 2010.

Although the task force is concerned with all of these areas, its members have focused their most recent efforts on smoking.

“As tobacco is the number one preventable behavior [in Healthy Campus], it immediately rose to become our top priority,” said Anita Barkin, director of Student Health Services (SHS).

Barkin represented the task force with Kristine Cecchetti, a health educator in SHS, as they presented the smoking change proposal to students, faculty, and staff at Thursday’s Student Senate Spotlight Series.

“We’re trying to get away from the 20-foot rule,” Barkin said. “The direction we’re suggesting is designated smoking areas.... There is no enforcement in the current policy.”

Carnegie Mellon’s current policy prohibits smoking within 20 feet of all building entrances.
According to Barkin, the two key parts of the new plan are containment and enforcement.

Containment will come in the form of carefully designated smoking areas on every part of campus.
In the plan’s initial stages, the entire Cut and Mall (the area defined by Doherty, Wean, Hamerschlag, Porter, and Baker Halls), and the immediate exteriors of all residential buildings would be designated as non-smoking areas, among other places on campus.

The job of enforcing the new policies will fall to the University Police. If the proposal is enacted, the as-of-yet undecided system of fines and warnings will be instituted by the officers.

Students had mixed reactions to the proposed policy changes at Thursday’s Senate meeting.
Some students commented on the vagueness of the designated areas and the ways in which they would be marked, which, according to Barkin, would be by physical signs.

There was additional concern as to whether or not all areas could fall under jurisdiction, such as Greek housing, which is subject to different fees and residential policies.

Another potential problem brought up was that of enforcement since University Police spend different amounts of time at different residential areas on and off campus.

Additionally, sidewalks and specific off-campus land does not belong to Carnegie Mellon, and thus cannot be included in University Police jurisdiction.

Still, some students maintained that the effects of second-hand smoking on non-smokers is enough to warrant the policy.

The idea of designated smoking areas and even smoke-free campuses is not a new one nationwide or in Pittsburgh. According to SHS data, at least 105 colleges nationwide have enacted smoke-free colleges, and Carnegie Mellon is one of 320 campuses with smoke-free policies within residential buildings.

Carlow University began designating smoking areas in 2007 and the University of Pittsburgh is hoping to more strongly enforce its 15-foot rule, which prohibits smoking closer than 15 feet to any entranceway. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has declared all of its medical building and hospital campuses smoke-free and offers educational materials and support for those hoping to quit.

Cecchetti used a nationwide ACHA survey to explain some of the reasons behind the proposal at Carnegie Mellon.

According to Cecchetti, the most interesting survey data, and one that played a role in the task force’s decision to move forward, was the discrepancy between student perceptions versus actual tabulations of smoking behavior.

“What generally tends to happen with college health issues is that students tend to overestimate what other people are doing, and that happens with drugs, alcohol, and sexual behavior, and it certainly happened with smoking,” Cecchetti said.

According to the survey, students guessed that 16.5 percent of their peers were not smokers and 22 percent were daily smokers.

In fact, 75.7 percent of students reported being non-smokers and 13.9 percent reported smoking occasionally, but not in the past month. Only 1.5 percent called themselves daily smokers, a figure dramatically smaller than the students’ perception.

When the survey asked for additional comments on smoking behavior, many students complained of smoke coming into their rooms through their windows, a concern that has been directly addressed in the new policy.

Both Barkin and Cecchetti commented on the prevalence of smoking butts on campus. According to Barkin, the estimated cost of cleaning them up is $220 per day and approximately $80,000 per year.

The task force had drafted a proposal to make the campus smoke-free last school year. However, strong student opinion against such measures caused them to re-evaluate their proposed policy.
Barkin noted that a smoke-free campus is not out of the question in the future. “We believe that we are ultimately heading in that direction,” she said. “But we would go through the same process for any other changes.”

However, some students maintain that this proposed policy is not advantageous to all parties involved.

Joey Cordes, a sophomore design major and Senate member, spoke for many when he mentioned the issue as a dictation of students’ choices. “Students should be given the right to choose for themselves,” he said.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Jared Itkowitz, a junior business administration major Student Senate chair, took an informal straw poll of senators. The voting was 17–9 in favor of further development of the proposal by the task force.

The Healthy Campus 2010 Task Force hopes to finalize its proposal and bring it to the Student Senate, Graduate Student Assembly, Faculty Senate, and President’s Council in the coming months, so that the policy can be instituted as early as fall 2008.