smoking
Photo: Avalon Morell

A year after Penn announced its plans to become a tobacco-free campus, the University has removed dozens of smoker poles around campus. 

Until recently, it was common to see Penn students, faculty, and staff disposing of their cigarette butts at designated smoker poles outside certain academic buildings like Van Pelt Library or Williams Hall. But starting September 2016, Penn has gradually removed many of the smoker poles around campus, replacing them with anti-smoking signage. College senior Trevor Glenn, who worked as an undergraduate representative of the Student Health Advisory Board on the new anti-tobacco policies, said over 25 poles have been removed since last year. 

In a video on Penn's efforts to become tobacco-free published on Nov. 27,  Rebecca Huxta, a public health specialist at Student Health Service and Campus Health, said the existence of smoker poles can "signal to smokers that it is OK to smoke in that proximity because there is an area for them to dispose of this waste." She added that these "environmental cues" on campus can promote smoking. 

Removing Penn's smoker poles is part of a larger anti-tobacco initiative, which started when the University was awarded a $20,000 grant from the the American Cancer Society and CVS Health in 2016. The grant, which was part of a $3.6 million, nationwide campaign called the "Tobacco-Free Generation Campus Initiative," was jointly awarded to Penn's Division of Human Resources, Campus Health, and SHS. 

Penn's decision to remove the smoker poles may affect more than 2,500 undergraduate students on campus. A study from the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment survey found that while only 1-2 percent of Penn students smoke everyday, nearly 25 percent smoke at least once in a 30-day period. 

College sophomore and regular smoker Aleksei Kuryla Queirolo said he was skeptical about Penn's new anti-smoking efforts. 

“By discouraging smoking around campus, the University is just going to make smokers smoke inside,” he said. 

Frank Leone, a professor at the Perelman School of Medicine and director of the Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program, said removing the smoker poles is just the first step of Penn’s new anti-tobacco policy and added that a unique aspect of this anti-smoking initiative is that it won’t be actively enforced.

“It's a different philosophical approach," he said. "There's not going to be enforcement or an effort to corral smokers."

Glenn added that the goal of the program is to educate students about the dangers of smoking, rather than punish smokers.

“We’re really trying to create more of a culture of change rather than a mandate,” he said. “We hope that through the modules and posters, and that we are not trying to stigmatize smoking, that it's viewed more as trying to provide advocacy and support."

Leone also emphasized that the anti-smoking campaign will focus on changing attitudes about tobacco use on campus by expanding resources for tobacco cessation, rather than by singling out smokers.

“The basic notion is that we are trying to create a cultural norm where people respect each other [and] respect each other's space as though it was their own homes,” he said.

Although Glenn recognized that students may simply start smoking off campus, he said he remained confident that the campaign could change students perceptions about smoking.

One issue that Kuryla Queirolo has with the initiative is that it will primarily affect specific groups of Penn students.

“People who smoke are mostly international students and minorities," he said. "So it’s targeting people with a specific background more so than your average Penn student." 

A previous version of this article stated that Penn had removed all the smoker poles on campus. This is inaccurate; Penn has removed over 25 poles on campus but not all of them. The Daily Pennsylvanian regrets the error. 

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