Tobacco Free initiative to survey Tufts community

A Tufts student smokes a cigarette on the Tisch Library Patio on Feb 16. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

Tufts Tobacco Free, a campus initiative that is looking to make the Medford/Somerville campus tobacco-free, plans to survey the Tufts community about its proposed tobacco ban, according to Jennifer Allen, a professor of community health and faculty consultant for Tufts Tobacco Free.

The idea for the initiative was conceived four years ago in an Introduction to Community Health course taught by Allen and materialized after several students expressed interest in working on a solution for limiting secondhand smoke on campus, according to Allen. Megan D’Andrea and Nicholas Nasser, both seniors, have been heavily involved in developing the project, Allen added.

The initiative, which seeks to ban tobacco on the Medford/Somerville campus and provide resources to smokers who want to quit, has been primarily focused on collecting data at this time.

“The major part of our work so far has been gathering information, learning about different perspectives on this. That includes gathering information about what resources are available,” Allen said.

In addition to taking an inventory of on-campus and Massachusetts state resources for smokers, Tufts Tobacco Free is currently working on a survey that will be sent out to Tufts undergraduates, faculty, staff and neighbors, according to Allen.

Students at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy have already been surveyed, according to Allen, and the majority remain unopposed or neutral to a tobacco ban. Concerns about the proposal center primarily around individual rights, marginalization and the effect on students’ mental health, Allen noted.

Members of the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate expressed similar concerns about the proposal’s impact on marginalized populations that tend to have higher rates of tobacco consumption, including LGBTQ people, according to a Feb. 21 Daily article. Allen recognized that Tufts must work to ensure that people are not marginalized by the proposal, suggesting that Tufts provide cessation resources.

“The idea that this policy would make people feel even further marginalized was a concern, and that certainly is a concern,” Allen said. “I think we have a lot of other really important work to do on this campus that doesn’t involve tobacco.”

According to data from the 2015 National College Health Assessment survey, the smoking rate of Tufts undergraduates was one percent, but the rate for international students was seven percent, Allen said. The rate for LGBTQ students on campus was fairly low, according to Allen.

“We did try to look at data across groups and the smoking rates [among LGBTQ students] are so low overall that we couldn’t see any statistically significant variability,” Allen stated.

Allen said she hopes the ban will be implemented in a way that does not push people off campus.

“I think that tobacco is not going to be the thing that marginalizes [these groups]. What we’re seeing for Tufts is that this whole thing would be rolled out over a number of years and that there will be time for people to get whatever supports they need in place for this,” Allen said. “[Tufts University Police Department (TUPD)] is not going to be the tobacco police.”

People have expressed concern about how the ban will be enforced, according to Allen. She explained that she does not want the ban to be punitive, and said enforcement would be centered around voluntary compliance. Kevin Maguire, director of the Department of Public and Environmental Safety (DPES), which oversees TUPD, confirmed that enforcement would not be punitive.

“If DPES were to receive a call for service relative to a smoker in violation of a non-smoking law or policy, we would seek voluntary compliance from the person in violation, as we have no formal authority to enforce smoking laws,” Maguire told the Daily in an email. “Our students, faculty and staff could also assist if they were comfortable in doing so, by reminding the person in violation of the law/rules and asking that they smoke in designated areas only.”

DPES was approached by Tufts Tobacco Free in 2016 and agreed to assist with the initiative. When asked about how DPES can improve the practicality of the initiative, Maguire stated that collective responsibility is essential to successfully enforcing a future ban.

“The practicality of this initiative depends on our entire community, not just one department. Students, faculty and staff have a responsibility to comply with policy made by the university,” Maguire wrote. “If a smoke-free policy were adopted, we would collectively create the expectation that both smokers and nonsmokers would cooperate in the implementation of the policy in an atmosphere of mutual respect and consideration.”

Tufts Tobacco Free has also been conducting research on how a tobacco ban has been enforced at other institutions, such as Northeastern University and the Tufts Boston campus, according to Allen.

First-year Eric Park said he is not opposed to the idea of a smoking ban for health purposes, but he noted that proponents of the policy should consider the rights of smokers such as himself, particularly by designating on-campus smoking areas.

“I think, in general, it’s a proposal for the whole good,” Park said, “But at the same time I think if they’re going to do it, they need a [more] detailed proposal.”

Jacqueline Cabral, a biology and community health major, supports the intention behind the ban but remains skeptical about its implementation.

“I can understand the intention behind this ban. Being a community health major, I understand that this type of intervention is theoretically the most effective [way] to reduce the effects of secondhand smoke. From this perspective, I actually support the ban,” Cabral, a sophomore, said.

However, Cabral believes resources for smoking assistance should be offered to marginalized communities with higher smoking rates, and that those communities need to be consulted.

“It must acknowledge those that will be marginalized by actually providing the resources needed or making areas where people can go and smoke,” Cabral said. “So maybe the next step should be to talk to different communities and see what they need and then implement that.”