UR will be effectively tobacco-free, come next July.
The new policy, as announced on Aug. 29 by University President Joel Seligman, will scrap current rule on the River Campus, which bans smoking within 30 feet of all buildings, and restrict smoking to designated shelters on campus. The policy shift will also apply to the Eastman School of Music and all other University properties.
The tobacco-cessation initiative is the University’s boldest move to curtail smoking among students in nearly a decade, and is the first policy aimed toward restricting smoking on the River Campus since smoking was prohibited in all undergraduate housing in 2003.
The school’s Medical Center has been smoke free since 2006.
Throughout the University’s announcement,President Seligman emphasized tobacco consumption as a public health concern and as a habit that contrasts sharply with the University’s mission statement.
“After consultation with medical experts and University faculty, staff and students, broadening our indoor smoke-free policy to restrict all tobacco use at the University makes the most sense for our community,” Seligman said. “This is an important step in ensuring a healthy learning and working environment that is consistent with our mission. The University is committed to promoting good health and well-being, and with this policy we will also provide encouragement and resources to those interested in quitting.”
When interviewed by the Campus Times, Ralph Manchester, Vice Provost and Director of the Department of University Health Services (UHS), spoke enthusiastically about the policy’s potential to alleviate health concerns throughout the River Campus. He stressed that working toward the policy was a collaborative effort between students and administration.
“We’ve been working closely with several students groups that have been actively campaigning for a smoking cessation policy over the past several years, and we’re now at the point where the policy is set to happen,” he said.
Senior Tristan Ford, a representative from the University Health Services Advisory Committee , explained that UHS surveys show that most students support these new policies.
Of the 1,333 students who participated in the surveys, 61 percent said they’d support an entirely smoke-free campus, and 74 percent said they’d support designated smoking areas.
When students ranked whether they preferred the current policy, going completely smoke-free, or creating designated smoking areas, the latter was the most popular choice, Ford said.
Junior Samantha Stoma, an active member of Rochester’s Relay for Life chapter, spoke in similarly favorable terms about the University’s new policy.
“It’s a great public health advancement that follows a steady precedent set by other top Universities and businesses,” she said, “As information becomes more available about the adverse effects of tobacco products and the addictive nature of these products, the University-wide ban seems like a progressive step.”
Despite evident support for the cessation policy, a few University students expressed concerns that the policy may alienate University staff, international students, and members of the community who see smoking as a personal choice.
A Students’ Association (SA) IMPACT petition written by junior Jackie Ibragimov,“Rescind New Legislation to Ban Smoking on Campus,” had garnered 14 of the 250 necessary signatures to be considered before the SA Senate, as of Sept. 10.
The smoking policy, in the author’s words, will alienate the international student community and result in covert smoking throughout campus. Ibragimov also wrote that the new policy will strip students of their rights to smoke in Greek housing, even though smoking has been prohibited in campus housing since 2003.
In a lengthy response, junior Ciara Mcgillivray, along with other students commenting on Ibragimov’s petition, chafed at the assertion that smoking is a private right rather than a public health issue.
“Unfortunately, in writing this petition, you completely disregard all of the positive aspects that this ban will have for the entire University community,” she wrote. “Additionally, it looks like you ignore some key aspects of the new legislation, while also providing false information.”
“The point of the ban isn’t to punish smokers, it is to improve the health of everyone at the University of Rochester,” she wrote, adding later, “It’s simply good public health. It’s protecting the health of nonsmokers. It’s promoting the health of smokers. It’s smart, and it’s already been passed. Getting this legislation passed has been in the works for years, and it’s been difficult (trust me, I’ve sat in on a few of the meetings). But it’s not going away”.
Ford expressed similar frustration with criticism of the school’s policy as exclusionary and with the fact that the majority of criticism directed toward the policy was based on misinformation.
“Senate wasn’t very receptive to the idea and our discussions weren’t very constructive,” he said of his efforts to bring smoking-cessation initiatives before the body. “One senator at the time declared that secondhand smoke would never give him cancer.”
Juan Pablo Castaño, a junior international student and former SA senator, acknowledged that while smoking has been an intermittent habit of his, the University is a community of many students—many of whom are opposed to smoking throughout campus.
“It’ll be inconvenient,” he , “But I get it. We have to do what’s best for the Rochester community.”
Junior Deisy Abarca Espíritu contributed reporting to this piece.