Smoke breaks might become a thing of the past on Penn’s campus.
On April 24, the University Council Committee on Campus and Community Life presented their annual report to the University Council. One of the main suggestions from the report was that, “all University of Pennsylvania facilities, buildings, and properties shall be smoke and tobacco free.”
Campus Health Initiatives, the public health section of Student Health Services, and the Center for Public Health Initiatives, a university-wide center for public health research, also released statements on April 24 in support of such a change.
The Medical Faculty Senate also considered the report on Wednesday and voted to support the recommendation to go smoke and tobacco free.
“The most important and most successful way of encouraging both smoking cessation and prevention of smoking is through this policy that we’re hoping to encourage here at Penn,” Sharon McMullen, director of Campus Health Initiatives, said.
The University Council will pass the report on to Penn administration through the University Secretary’s office. Then the administration could either approve and implement the policy or consider the proposal further in planning groups and other committees. The University Council will hear back about the finalized next steps in the fall.
According to Kent Bream, chair of the CCL committee, the ultimate decision on this shift would fall to President Amy Gutmann, Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli and Provost Vincent Price.
Over 1,000 other college campuses across the country have already gone smoke and tobacco free, but Penn would be the first Ivy League institution to do so, said Jennifer Pinto Martin, director of CPHI.
College junior and former UA president Dan Bernick, who is an undergraduate member of the CCL committee, sees this potential change as an important move for the University. “Penn is a global leader in higher education and a proponent of informed public policy. Penn is also heavily involved in promoting public health and this is a wonderful opportunity for Penn to lead,” he said in an email.
The CCL committee began work on this initiative in response to an open-forum proposal in the 2011-2012 academic year. According to the report, the committee consulted smoke and tobacco free advocates, data from other smoke-free campuses and a number of University offices before making their final recommendation.
Earth and Environmental Science professor Michael Kulik said he hasn’t noticed a significant number of students smoking on campus, but has noticed the prevalence of other tobacco products like hookah. “The smoking culture is pretty much alive and well in the student population,” he said.
Kulik teaches an Academically Based Community Service course called Prevention of Tobacco Addiction in Urban Preadolescents, and he said that every student in his class this semester said that they had smoked hookah before.
According to Pinto Martin, 12 percent of Penn students self-identified as smokers, which comes to about 2,900 students. Additionally, 10 percent of Penn employees, or about 3,100 people, are self-reported smokers.
One of the main reasons for the support behind this policy change comes from the fact that 25 percent of college students who smoke pick up the habit in college, Pinto Martin said. Making Penn’s campus smoke and tobacco-free would significantly decrease the number of students who become new smokers.
The CCL committee’s report also cited a number of other anticipated benefits to come with such a policy change, including improved individual health, decreased exposure to secondhand smoke and decreased group health and life insurance costs.
If the University’s employees quit smoking at a rate similar to what is seen on other smoke-free campuses, it could save five million dollars annually, Bream said.
The proposal also brings along some other questions which have not been fully explored by the committee such as how to define “campus” compared to the rest of the public areas, the added costs related to signage and marketing of the change, as well as programs to support smoking cessation.
Bream said that the CCL committee spent a lot of time discussing enforcement, and they are confident that it would be feasible. “If Penn is like many other campuses, and even like many restaurants and bars in Philadelphia, community norms and peer enforcement take care of the issue,” he said.
However, Engineering and Wharton freshman Eliana Mason was wary of how effective enforcement of this policy would truly be. “It will cause inconvenience for more people than it will help,” she said. “In the end, people who really smoke will find a way to do it.”
According to Bream, the University’s current policy on smoking bans the practice in all buildings and facilities and within 20 feet of any entrances or exits. Smoking is also prohibited on Shoemaker Green and Penn Park, he said.
Bream said the challenge to these regulations is that people aren’t aware of what a distance of 20 feet actually looks like, but this potential shift in policy would make it easier to understand the smoking rules. “We can see that the grass, porches, and courtyards of the University are Penn property more easily than smokers and nonsmokers can identify 20 feet from an entrance,” he said.
College sophomore Ben Droz, chair of the Student Health Advisory Board, said that he would not support such a change, since he feels that this policy would be impractical and wouldn’t respect students’ and faculty’s capacity to make their own decisions. “I don’t want campus to be a daycare,” he said. However, he noted that his opinion does not reflect that of the entire SHAB, which he said would work to support a smoke and tobacco free campus if the initiative is implemented.
But Kulik is confident that the change is inevitable for Penn. “It seems like a huge challenge, but I think it’s a worthwhile one,” he said.
Staff writer Jeremy Jick also contributed reporting.
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