Amid a growing number of universities that are establishing smoke-free campuses, a student-initiated proposal to turn the River Campus into an entirely smoke-free environment was recently submitted to administration for review and feedback after months of discussion.
The leaders of the initiative, juniors Sara Rothenberg and Catie Tarentine, submitted the proposal last month. The two spent the past year researching the effects of such a policy, soliciting student feedback and benchmarking with other schools that have opted for the change to determine whether this is an appropriate and feasible option for UR.
If the initiative were to be approved, the earliest Rothenberg imagines the campus undergoing this change would be in summer 2013. Linda Dudman, associate director of health promotion at University Health Services (UHS), agreed with this estimation, saying that if the campus were to become smoke-free it would likely not be until August 2013.
“We need a fairly good time frame — a year, a year and a half — after the decision is made and announced to do all the work that’s needed to successfully implement it,” Dudman said.
The current rule on campus stipulates that smokers must be at least 30 feet away from a building while smoking. However, Dudman stated that, despite student complaints of smokers in the vicinity of Rush Rhees Library, she had not heard of anyone being penalized.
“What we’ve heard from other schools is that it’s a lot easier to implement [a smoke-free policy]… Having a smoke-free policy will give us a stronger standing to talk to someone,” she said. “I think the 30-feet [rule] can get kind of confrontational, whereas with smoke-free, you shouldn’t be smoking at all. I think it’s a somewhat different conversation.”
Schools that have successfully implemented a smoke-free campus had a grace period in which students would not be penalized for smoking, during which the focus is primarily on education and communication. Because of this focus, the transition period will also serve to ameliorate concerns about enforcement of the new initiative; a concrete policy on penalizing students for infractions will be decided upon more definitely during the planning process.
One impetus behind the initiative is the recent nationwide surge in universities turning to entirely smoke-free policies. As of April 1, at least 704 universities within the United States formally announced or have implemented a 100 percent smoke-free campus, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation (ANRF). This is an increase from 460 schools in January 2011.
“We’ve seen so many experiences from others schools that are showing us that [a smoke-free campus] can be done,” Dudman said, adding that it’s becoming “something that campuses can do … and can accomplish.”
When the UR Medical Center (URMC) converted to a smoke-free environment in 2006, the River Campus hoped to follow in its footsteps within the proceeding years. However, this never came to fruition.
Rothenberg believes this is due to the fact that, at that time, such a proposal was not “really coming to the forefront” for universities and colleges.
“I think this initiative has to be done at a time that is right for the campus, and that, though it was right for URMC in 2006, it doesn’t mean it was right for the [River Campus],” Rothenberg said. “I think undergraduate campuses were having a more difficult time. It’s all about the timing.”
Rothenberg believes that, as with any new policy, there will be opposition. She is optimistic, however, that these challenges can be worked through as the policy changes evolve.
“[The time lag before implementation] doesn’t mean that in the meantime we can’t continue to get support from different departments, positive or negative feedback and continue to work on making the initiative the best it can be,” she said.
Kerem is a member of the class of 2015.