Members of Tufts Tobacco Free, a student initiative four years in the making that seeks to eliminate smoking on the Medford/Somerville campus, are beginning to take the next steps to implement their proposed policy by seeking feedback from the student body. According to organizers, the policy would be rolled out over the course of several years.
The group met with Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate last week to get its input on how to best implement the policy, according to senior Megan D’Andrea, a member of Tufts Tobacco Free. At that meeting, a number of senators raised concerns that the policy could end up unfairly targeting certain groups within the Tufts community.
“The overall goal of the policy is not to target individual smokers or to reduce individual smoking, it is more to promote overall health for this campus,” D’Andrea said. “As a research institution that supports healthy living, we do not want this campus to support smoking, and so it just makes sense to have an overall tobacco-free campus in which this behavior is not approved of.”
D’Andrea said that the policy would not take effect for another several years and that the contribution of the Tufts community is crucial to its full development.
“This policy is aimed to promote overall health on campus,” she said. “We are hoping to do so in the long-term future. That being said, a major policy change does affect everyone on campus and so, because of that, we want to be sensitive to that and make sure that the policy is ready to be rolled out over a few years and make sure that it’s a gradual shift and not an overnight shift to a completely tobacco-free campus.”
Jennifer Allen, chair of the Department of Community Health and associate professor of public health and community medicine, said that the policy also aims to prevent those who smoke casually from picking up a more serious habit.
“In this college-age population, a lot of health behaviors are established,” Allen said. “Patterns get started, and especially with tobacco which is highly addictive, it becomes a pattern that tracks into later adulthood.”
Allen says that the tobacco product ban is actually one of the smaller parts of the policy. It would also provide smoking-cessation resources to all Tufts students free of charge and educational resources about the effects of smoking, according to Allen.
However, the policy raised numerous concerns within TCU Senate and among the student body.
Senator Sylvia Ofoma said she understood the concerns about personal health, but she expressed reservations about how such a policy might disproportionately affect different marginalized groups of students on campus.
“Whenever you have a drug policy, they tend to hurt marginalized groups the most,” Ofoma, a senior, said. “There have been studies shown that microaggressions and discrimination tend to drive usage of drugs … we’re really concerned about how it’s going to affect students.”
Senator Ben Kesslen was also concerned that the policy may affect specific students and university staff members, particularly LGBTQ and low-income people, in other negative ways.
“What a tobacco-free campus does is that it pushes people further off campus,” Kesslen, a junior, said. “A good example is that queer people are more likely to smoke, so what that means is that we’re pushing queer people further off this campus who might already feel like this campus isn’t for them. Low-income students are more likely to smoke too … I’m concerned about what it means for workers on this campus who smoke.”
Senior Lauren Samuel worried that the policy is an imposition on students who have different value systems and that rules and constraints would not give students the type of care that Tufts Tobacco Free looks to promote.
“Bans are just peculiar to me as a way of looking out for the community, because to me it doesn’t seem like a ‘looking out’ kind of thing,” Samuel said.
D’Andrea addressed some of those concerns, saying that the group is aware of the disparity in smoking rates among different populations. She added that the group is looking to offer additional resources to help people quit smoking if they so choose.
“We are hoping to make sure that our policy is inclusive of all these groups and … that we are not trying to force people to quit smoking if they don’t want to,” D’Andrea said. “If someone does not want to quit smoking, this policy does not affect their right to do so.”
D’Andrea said that the policy’s enforcement mechanism has not yet been set, but it would not seek to punish individual smokers.
“[The Tufts University Police Department] is not going to be enforcing this policy,” she said. “We met with them, [and] we don’t want them to feel like they have to be the tobacco enforcers.”
Instead, educational resources would be made available and students could potentially report problems through an anonymous online form, D’Andrea said. She explained that the group has been working with Tufts Health Service to provide free cessation resources and tobacco use counseling for those who need it.
Director of Health Promotion and Prevention Ian Wong said the goal of the policy is to support and educate students.
“There are certain people who will need mental health counseling and things like that, but for a bigger majority, sometimes they just need to know how to deal with their stress,” Wong said.
Allen also said that the group will be rolling out a student feedback survey next week in order to create a space for students to voice concerns and contribute to the formation of the tobacco policy.
According to Allen, this policy is part of a larger effort by the Tufts administration to promote student health on campus. Another administration effort includes changing the nutritional standards in the dining halls, she noted.
“We want to promote health, and the culture of health means education, but it also means changes at the institutional level,” Allen said. “We don’t want to change people and certainly do not want to marginalize or shame any group at all. That would be directly antithetical to our goal.”