The Daily published an editorial last April arguing against banning smoking on campus on the grounds that it would infringe upon the right to smoke. The piece quickly sparked debate among community members, generating over 30 comments on the article online.
While Tufts declares itself “smoke-free,” the Tufts Tobacco-Free Initiative, a student-run organization under the Tufts Peer Health Collaborative, is seeking to promote a healthy campus environment on the Medford/Somerville campus with tobacco-free policy.
Junior Megan D’Andrea, an officer of the initiative, explained that the student group was founded as an offshoot of her first-year Introduction to Community Health class.
“Our professor had asked us to identify areas on the Tufts campus in which health could be improved, and a number of students had mentioned that there had been tobacco smoke outside Tisch and outside of their dorms,” D’Andrea said. “So, our professor encouraged us to run with the idea and see what would happen if Tufts was tobacco-free.”
Since then, the group has met with students, faculty and administrators in order to develop a comprehensive and effective tobacco policy, according to D’Andrea.
“I don’t think the idea is to prevent people from smoking [outright],” D’Andrea said. “I think the idea is to prevent people from smoking on this campus in a way that could potentially harm others with secondhand smoke … We’ve been said to have been one of the healthiest campuses in the country — there’s so many negative impacts of secondhand smoke that, overall, it would be good to advocate for this health transition on the Tufts campus.”
D’Andrea is aware, however, that the initiative faces opposition from smokers within the Tufts community.
“I think one of the main things that we’ve encountered as something to consider in this initiative is that there is kind of a conflict of interest in terms of rights, in that people have the right to smoke,” she said. “It’s not illegal in this country to…smoke. But people also have the right to clean air, to be able to not be exposed to secondhand smoke and to be able to live in a healthy environment. So I think the ultimate goal of this initiative is to…reduce this conflict of interest as much as possible.”
John Ramatowski, a senior studying biology and an emergency medical technician with Tufts Emergency Medical Services (TEMS), supports the initiative, but has some reservations. He explained that he is concerned that banning smoking outright would have a negative impact on the smoking population.
“The smoke-free initiative would benefit the Medford campus by reducing exposure to secondhand smoke and the necessity to clean up cigarette butts,” Ramatowski said. “However, the initiative should provide services to help current smokers curb the habit. If we were to ban smoking without these support measures, Tufts’ smoking population may turn to other substances, which would have a different set of health consequences.”
Currently, Tufts “has implemented a smoke-free environment” through a policy that prohibits smoking in all indoor spaces, all university facilities, residences, fraternities and sororities, according to the No-Smoking Policy posted on the Department of Public and Environmental Safety’s website. Kevin Maguire, director of the Department of Public and Environmental Safety, mentioned that, despite this, the department still sometimes receives complaints.
“On occasion, we get complaints about smoking on campus, usually when smokers are too close to facility entrances,” Maguire told the Daily in an email. “These complaints are resolved through bringing the behavior to the attention of the smoker and seeking voluntary compliance.”
According to Maguire, Tufts is in compliance with Massachusetts state law prohibiting smoking in all public spaces as well. However, it is not in Tufts’ jurisdiction to handle violations under this law. Instead, Tufts seeks voluntary compliance from the community.
“Responsibility for enforcement of those laws in public places is placed upon the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) or the local boards of health,” he wrote. “Police agencies, such as Tufts University Police, are not specifically tasked with enforcement and have no enforcement authority unless smoking is taking place in [the prohibited spaces], and then it’s a student conduct issue. Even still, when a violation is brought to our attention, we seek to educate and achieve voluntary compliance … The university community would have to decide if it is practical for Tufts to have an on-campus smoking ban.”
Tufts would not be the first university in the area to implement such a policy — both Harvard University and Northeastern University have recently joined the ranks of smoke-free campuses nationwide. Tufts’ Boston campus already launched an initiative in April 2012 to make the campus tobacco-free.
“As of this month, there are 1,620 smoke-free schools in the country, 1,130 of which are tobacco-free,” D’Andrea said. “This has increased since this July, in which there were about 1,500. So there’s clearly a national trend across U.S. universities going in this direction. It’s recommended by the American College Health Association; it’s definitely the way that people are going, and so to have Tufts be a part of that movement would be great.”
Members of the initiative have also discussed the issue with students from Northeastern University, who have insight into making the transition to becoming a smoke-free campus, D’Andrea explained.
“We’ve talked with people at Northeastern about their policy, and we’ve gotten their feedback on what worked, what didn’t [and] things that they would do differently if they were to do this policy enactment again, so it’s been really helpful to have them as an ally and a resource that we can rely on for information about this,” she said.
D’Andrea also mentioned that that such a large-scale policy change can take a long time to implement.
“We’ve been working on this for two years already,” she noted. “We can’t say for sure when we’d like to move forward, but a policy like this kind of gets drawn out in stages … Maybe a year out you enact the policy, and then from there, it kind of takes a while to implement it. It’s hard to say exactly when it would be, but…hopefully in the near future.”
Noting that the percentage of smokers on the Tufts campus is minimal, however, D’Andrea said the initiative has generally been well received so far. Going forward, she hopes to get more input from the community.
“Through various interviews with people and surveys, we’ve found that [students’ feelings about the smoking ban] are overall positive,” she said. “One of the things we’re doing in the future is we’re hopefully going to be running focus groups with students, so if people are interested in giving us their feedback or input, we’re going to have some dialogues in the next few months.”
D’Andrea was grateful for the support from various facets of campus that have aided the initiative’s efforts to create new policy.
“It’s been really helpful to have the Community Health Department guiding us and kind of teaching us how policy is implemented here, and how this can have a positive outcome in terms of health,” she said. “Working with them and Health Service and with various aspects of the Tufts community…it’s been really cool to see the interaction of all these groups who are all looking to have the same positive health outcome.”