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Last semester, Harvard’s own Institute of Politics Tobacco Control Policy Group embarked on an initiative to institute a smoke-free policy within the University, starting with a proposed ban on smoking in Harvard Yard. This initiative resulted in a proposal in front of the Committee on Student Life last Thursday, which was attended by both College administrators and House Masters. With a proposed ban on smoking in the Yard now firmly on the table, we must to consider whether or not the implementation of a smoke-free campus is a necessary measure for the University.
Although the current proposal offers certain resources for those who opt to quit smoking as a result of the ban, the reality of the situation is that banning smoking in the Yard and elsewhere will compel many students to continue smoking in alternate locations. As we all know, Cambridge is not the safest off-campus environment, and enforcing a ban on smoking will inevitably place students’ safety in jeopardy by driving them toward potentially dangerous locales and privileging students who have access to off-campus locations where smoking is permitted.
It is also imperative to realize, without delegitimizing the student health concerns raised by the IOP Policy Group, that students are not inundated with smoke exposure throughout Harvard’s campus, or even throughout the Yard. The issue at hand, therefore, should not be one of protecting people from smoke exposure, but rather developing methods to make exposure as infrequent as possible while simultaneously ensuring the safety of students who do choose to smoke.
Where the interests of those opposed to smoke exposure are concerned, it would be far more reasonable to look to the current smoking policy on campus and increase its level of enforcement. According to the University, smoking is not permitted within 25 feet of any university building, thereby providing smokers with roughly designated on-campus areas that can be avoided by non-smokers if deemed necessary. Although this is an established policy for the University, smokers noticeably fail to adhere to these regulations, often to little or no consequence. A more rigid enforcement of this ban on behalf of the University will therefore likely resolve many of the same issues that the blanket ban attempts to alleviate without driving smokers to unsafe off-campus locations.
Stricter implementation of the 25-foot rule would serve to eliminate a culture of smoking that is fostered by the close proximity of smokers to buildings. It has become commonplace on campus to witness collective groups of students smoking outside Lamont Library, dorms in the Yard or upperclassmen Houses. By actually enforcing the ban against smoking near buildings, these groups of smokers will likely diminish in size and number. With this decline in the smoking clusters should come a decline in the temptation for others to smoke when they are regularly exposed to their peers smoking on the way in and out of buildings.
Regardless, however, of whether or not this current policy remains in place and allows for smoking on campus, we should focus on how the University can help students, faculty, and staff quit smoking on their own. Although University Health Services and the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services do make a commendable effort to welcome prospective quitters, more could be done. Students who quit smoking should be entitled to more comprehensive and beneficial assistance than the quit kits, consultations, and literature currently available. Faculty and staff, meanwhile, should be given access to services beyond a free visit to UHS. Moreover, the availability of these resources must be better communicated to the Harvard student body and faculty in an effort to ease their transition. The improved quality and increased publicity of these resources, however, should be a step taken by the AODS itself rather than as a by-product of the result of this IOP group’s new smoking proposal.
At present our community can be best served by a more stringent enforcement of the current smoking policies and a strengthening of cessation resources on campus. And as for the blanket ban? Well…we hope it goes up in smoke.
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