Towards a tobacco-free policy: The do’s and don’ts

The Observer

It is no secret that Case Western Reserve University is heading, or at least considering heading, towards a tobacco-free future. Last year, the issue came up more than a few times during the general assemblies of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG). So far, the policy has not been implemented or even written, but it will most likely be realized. Other universities, such as Cleveland State University (CSU), and institutions, such as University Hospitals (UH), have already gone tobacco-free. We would be not surprised if that became a reality for us, as well. Whether it is a good reality or not is a different issue.

Based on the tobacco-free policy FAQ on CSU’s website, there are a few issues with the policy that CWRU should consider in its own version of it— assuming that CWRU’s own tobacco-free policy will be similar to that of other institutions.

Encouraging quitting an unhealthy habit is fine. But a zero-tolerance policy will not work.

The truth is, after all, that there will always be smokers, whether they care for their lungs or not. This can be seen on the UH campus, which is technically tobacco-free, yet smokers constantly loiter outside hospital buildings inhaling cigarette smoke, whether directly or second-hand.
The first obstacle to the policy is enforcement, which could prove immediately problematic. Were CWRU to implement a similar policy to that of CSU, the enforcement would mostly be based on voluntary compliance, and in the worst case scenario, “disciplinary actions.” However, a university policy is not a law and therefore there is no reason for students, staff or employees to actually comply with guidelines, university sanctioned or not. Counting on voluntary obedience just won’t work, especially when it comes to addictive behavior that simply cannot be turned off with only good intentions.

The enforcement of the policy would also run into problems due to CWRU’s ill-defined campus boundaries. The quads are obviously on CWRU campus— but how about the sidewalks on Euclid Avenue and Adelbert Road? How can students, staff or faculty be sure they are violating the policy? Would CWRU even have the right to include nearby sidewalks in the policy?

What CWRU should do instead is not go completely tobacco-free, at least not yet. There are a few policies and rules that could work equally well. The first step of any proposed plan should be to prohibit smoking near residence halls and on the quads— already a component of CWRU’s current policy. Any policy should include designated smoking areas that are secluded from non-smoking areas, but close enough to campus buildings to be safe and convenient to walk to, unlike the current ones, which are far enough away from civilization that they drive smokers toward crowded areas. The designated smoking areas should also be kept up, with ashtrays and clear demarcation lines. No wonder smokers at CWRU never use them, and are instead lighting up in the middle of common walkways.

A zero tolerance tobacco policy would look good on paper, and would certainly be a recruitment advantage, but uselessly stern policies can lead to deliberate defiance. Rather than unintentionally encouraging smokers to wander into common areas, why not try a more positive method to incentivize a smoke-free lifestyle?

CWRU should be pushing quitting rather than persecution. Placards and fliers about resources would be infinitely more helpful than an iron fist. Perhaps University Health Services could have some nicotine patches handy. There can always be more advertising about counseling services’ substance addiction programs. Maybe a university-specific nicotine addiction hotline is in order? CWRU shouldn’t be a community that, intentionally or otherwise, encourages maintaining an unhealthy habit— but there should be a softer and more effective way of getting that message across.

Truthfully, it is more likely that the administration will enact a zero-tolerance option. Given that eventuality, the university has to make sure that the policy will be properly enforced or else it will be useless. If it comes down to fining violators, then so be it. Meanwhile, when we are still waiting for the zero-tolerance policy to go through, the university can vastly improve its current policy with actual, effective enforcement.

We all wish we could walk our campus without involuntarily inhaling a cloud of carcinogens. The university should make sure that whichever path the smoking policies take, that wish is fulfilled.