The George Washington University has set a goal to make all its campuses in the District and Virginia smoke-free in fall 2013.
George Washington President Steven Knapp made the pledge today as part of the American Cancer Society’s 37th annual Great American Smokeout. By announcing its intent to go smoke free, George Washington University will join more than 800 colleges and universities nationwide that have banned smoking on their campuses.
In fall 2013, George Washington will ban smoking within 25 feet of all university-owned building entrances and public spaces. Students, faculty and staff will work together in the upcoming year to determine specifics of the smoke-free policy, including signage, smoking cessation programs, education and enforcement. The university currently promotes a smoke-free environment by prohibiting smoking in all academic, athletic and recreational and administrative support facilities.
Dr. Knapp signed the pledge at an event in Marvin Center’s Great Hall, which featured remarks by Dr. Knapp; Lynn Goldman, dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS); and George Washington graduate students Ruth Kai and Julien Guttman, members of Colonials for Clean Air, a student-led advocacy initiative for a smoke-free policy.
“This is the day where we really are moving forward toward our goal of becoming a smoke-free campus in 2013,” said Dr. Knapp. “The goal is very clearly defined. We want to make sure every member of our community has access to a comfortable and healthy environment on our campus, and I think we are in the position to accomplish that.”
The university also wants to support students, faculty, staff and family members who are trying to stop smoking, said Dr. Knapp. On Oct. 1, GW began offering faculty and staff free telephonic coaching and up to eight weeks of over the counter nicotine replacement therapy at no cost. Additional information is available by calling GW’s Quit Line at 202-994-QUIT or online at smokefree.gwu.edu.
In September 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced its Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative to promote and support the adoption and implementation of tobacco-free policies at universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning across the country.
“Time and time again, studies have shown that one of the single best health behavior changes that a person can make is to quit smoking, but what many people don’t know is the extent to which quitting smoking benefits the health of all of us,” said Dr. Goldman, noting that secondhand smoke can increase the risk of heart attacks and cancer in adults. “The evidence shows indisputable public health benefits in creating a smoke-free campus, which is why many campuses across the country are becoming smoke free.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one in five deaths, each year in the United States. Eighty percent of smokers begin smoking by age 18 and nearly 100 percent begin smoking by age 26.
“We at the Medical Faculty Associates are strong supporters of a smoke-free campus,” said Alan Wasserman, chairman of George Washington’s Department of Medicine and the Eugene Meyer Professor of Medicine. “Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in this country. Moving toward a smoke-free campus demonstrates a commitment to creating a healthy environment for all.”
SPHHS students and members of Colonials for Clean Air have led efforts to promote a healthy university and protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke exposure. The idea for Colonials for Clean Air began in a 2008 community advocacy class taught by Associate Professor of Prevention and Community Health Caroline Sparks. In the past four years, members have gathered more than 1,000 signatures from George Washington students, faculty, staff and community members petitioning for a smoke-free campus, and have sent more than 150 letters to university administrators.
“The university is taking a stance for the health of its community, and it is our hope that through educational initiatives, GW changes social norms and perceptions around smoking,” said Ms. Guttman. “By creating a cleaner environment for us to learn and work in, the GW smoke-free policy sets a standard of respect for each other and for ourselves. As we move toward implementation, we look to our classmates, our professors and staff to join us in signing a smoke-free pledge. This policy change has been long awaited, and we are so excited to have been part of the movement.”