Editorial: Tufts must act with care in implementing smoking ban

Tufts Tobacco Free, a student initiative to make the Medford/Somerville campus tobacco-free, announced at the Feb. 12 Tufts Community Union Senate meeting that the group had gained tentative support from several Tufts administrators and that the university would become tobacco-free over the next few years.

While the group is currently seeking feedback on how the ban should be implemented, Tufts Tobacco Free and the university did not seek input from students before making this important decision. This sets a harmful precedent for future administrative actions and undermines student trust in the university.

The details for the plan itself are still being developed. The university has provided few details about how the ban will be enforced or what cessation resources will be offered to help smokers quit, although senior Megan D’Andrea, a member of Tufts Tobacco Free, said in a Feb. 21 Daily article that Tufts University Police Department would not be enforcing the smoking ban.

Tufts’ rationale for instituting the ban is to create a healthy campus by discouraging smoking. There is little debate over whether smoking is bad for one’s health. Smoking has been labeled the number one cause of preventable deaths by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is responsible for the yearly deaths of over 480,000 Americans.

It is understandable that the university seeks to rectify this public health issue, but it must act with extreme care and concern moving forward, given the negative consequences of poor implementation. A ban with financial penalties would disproportionately impact low-income students and staff (smoking rates are higher among low-income people). The ban may also physically drive certain groups with higher smoking rates, such as the LGBTQ community, away from campus, further widening existing divides between majority and minority groups here.

Despite D’Andrea’s reassurances, students’ concerns about the ban include the potential for increased interaction with campus police, which could lead to undesirable situations for minority groups due to the potential for biased enforcement.

Additionally, the university and Tufts Tobacco Free should provide more clarity about the smoking cessation resources that will be provided. There is a major difference between providing educational resources and providing more expensive but more effective nicotine replacement products as part of cessation counseling. A 2010 survey in the United States found that 52.4 percent of smokers were unsuccessful in their attempts to quit in the previous year. Without providing helpful and effective resources to aid smokers, the university would be infringing on rights without providing a solution.

Now that Tufts has decided that the ban will take place, it should look to other schools such as the University of Michigan when evaluating models for effective implementation. The University of Michigan offers free nicotine replacement treatment, “Quit Kits” with information and other tools to help smokers who wish to quit, as well as other free nicotine replacement products for faculty, staff and students. Additionally, its enforcement guidelines emphasize respecting smokers’ choices and reminding them of the resources available.

The student group heading the initiative at Tufts is seeking comments at tobaccofreetufts@gmail.com. We urge you to reach out to them with your thoughts, suggestions and concerns.