The George Washington University launched the first phase of its Smoke-Free Policy last Thursday. The initiative, which was first announced in November as part of the American Cancer Society’s 37th annual Great American Smokeout, makes GW one of approximately 1,000 colleges and universities to ban smoking campus-wide.
The goal of the policy is to promote a healthy environment for all members of the GW community and to protect non-smokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Under the new policy, smoking is prohibited in university-owned outdoor spaces, as well as public spaces adjacent to all residential, academic, athletic, recreational and administrative support buildings.
“We’re trying to create a culture of health and mutual responsibility, and this policy is a part of it,” George Washington University President Steven Knapp said. “It’s also an opportunity for GW to get involved in a larger movement across the District that will benefit the health of the university’s employees and its students.”
A two-month transition period is in place to collect additional feedback. Members of the community are encouraged to visit smokefree.gwu.edu to learn more about the policy and to provide their thoughts and comments.
To encourage people to quit smoking, the university is also covering the cost of the American Cancer Society’s Quit for Life Program. The program includes nicotine replacement therapy like gum or patches. Twenty-two people have signed up for Quit for Life since it launched, and it is available to students, staff and faculty, as well as their partners and adult dependents.
Several students and staff have been active in moving the smoke-free initiative forward. The student-led group Colonials for Clean Air, which began in 2008 during a community advocacy class taught by Associate Professor of Prevention and Community Health Caroline Sparks, gathered more than 1,000 signatures petitioning for a smoke-free campus. The organization has been pivotal in leading efforts to limit the community’s exposure to secondhand smoke.
“We’ve pursued the issue because the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have documented repeatedly that of all the behaviors that can lead to bad health, smoking far outweighs anything else,” Dr. Sparks said. “The best thing one can do for one’s health is to stop smoking and live in a smoke-free environment.”
Data from the CDC also shows secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic and can cause cancer. Smoking causes nearly one of every five deaths in the United States each year—more deaths than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol, car injuries, suicides and murders combined.
Colonials for Clean Air documented research showing the adverse effects of secondhand smoking and presented it to Dr. Knapp. In February of 2012, the GW Student Association held a vote for a referendum that would ban smoking within 25 feet of all university building entrances. The effort was supported by more than two-thirds of voters.
Dr. Knapp pledged to make the university smoke-free at an event on Nov. 15, which featured remarks from Lynn Goldman, dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), and members of Colonials for Clean Air.
“Universities all over the country are adopting policies like this, and we wanted GW to show initiative—and it has,” Dr. Sparks said.
Sophomore and Student Association Senator Marshall Cohen said the initiative shows the GW community working together toward a common goal.
“Smoke-Free GW starts an important conversation about healthy lifestyle choices and provides valuable resources for current smokers to quit,” he said. “As a student, I am proud to see that an initiative rooted by both students and University leaders is being implemented jointly.”
Senior Katie Duman, who leads the student organization Active Minds at GW, plans on promoting the effort and raising awareness on her organization’s social media outlets.
“The Smoke-Free Policy is just one example of GW as a forward-thinking university. We are constantly working on ways to change and improve our campus atmosphere,” she said.