Open forum continues discussion on smoke-​​free campus initiative

At a campus forum Tuesday after­noon, mem­bers of the North­eastern com­mu­nity weighed in on the poten­tial for the uni­ver­sity to adopt a smoke-​​free campus policy, as speakers deliv­ered pas­sionate yet respectful remarks on all sides of the conversation.

In December, the uni­ver­sity announced it had con­vened a com­mittee com­prised of stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff to explore the pos­si­bility of imple­menting a smoke-​​free policy. The com­mittee is co-​​chaired by Terry Fulmer, dean of the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, and John Auer­bach, director of the Insti­tute on Urban Health Research and Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Prac­tice in Bouvé’s Depart­ment of Health Sciences.

More than 50 people—mostly students—attended the forum, which was held in the Cabral Center. After wel­coming remarks from Fulmer, Auer­bach noted that the forum is one of many ways the com­mittee is gath­ering feed­back over the next sev­eral months before deliv­ering a set of rec­om­men­da­tions in the spring. He indi­cated 200 com­ments have already been received through a ded­i­cated web­site and via email, and that the uni­ver­sity is also seeking feed­back from the 1,100 cam­puses nation­wide that have already imple­mented some form of a smoke-​​free policy to learn about their experiences.

Tuesday’s forum pro­vided mem­bers of the North­eastern com­mu­nity with an oppor­tu­nity to learn more about the topic, ask ques­tions, and voice their com­ments and con­cerns. Also in atten­dance at the forum was Rosie Henson, senior policy adviser in the Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Health at the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices. Henson, a 1979 North­eastern grad­uate, met with Bouvé offi­cials over the course of a two-​​day visit to learn about North­eastern looking at a poten­tial smoke-​​free policy.

Julie Roberts, a third-​​year law stu­dent and co-​​president of the North­eastern law stu­dents’ chapter of Stu­dents for Sen­sible Drug Policy, expressed con­cern about how a poten­tial smoke-​​free policy would be gov­erned, and she sug­gested that alter­na­tive methods to a ban be considered.

“I would encourage us to not only look at uni­ver­si­ties that have imple­mented bans, but also look at what uni­ver­si­ties are doing in other ways. What other public-​​health mea­sures are schools taking?” said Roberts, who told the audi­ence she quit smoking eight months ago. “We see the Red Bull car out there all the time giving out free Red Bull. How about we get out there and give away free gum or free patches?”

Later in the forum, Fulmer responded to speakers who relayed con­cerns about how a smoke-​​free policy might be han­dled, empha­sizing that a policy would “be about adher­ence and sup­port” rather than a strin­gent enforce­ment plan. This is a public-​​health dis­cus­sion we’re having,” Fulmer said. “It all starts with each of us, and I feel very pas­sionate about that.”

John Auerbach, the director of the Institute on Urban Health Research, speaks at Tuesday's forum.

Throughout the 90-​​minute forum, sev­eral stu­dents com­mented that a smoking ban could be stig­ma­tizing to smokers, that a smoke-​​free policy would infringe on their per­sonal rights and cul­tural prac­tices, and that mea­sures shouldn’t be taken against those with this addiction.

Avi Kurlantzick, a mechan­ical engi­neering stu­dent, agreed that addic­tions should be treated like a dis­ease, and not like a crime. How­ever, he noted that by not taking steps to reduce smoking on campus, non­smokers are essen­tially being pun­ished by having to con­tend with second-​​hand smoke. “[Those people] don’t have the choice to just not go to class, or not go into their dorm because there’s a cloud of smoke out­side,” he said. “There is a flip side to the argu­ment that we don’t want to demo­nize addic­tion or that it’s smokers’ respon­si­bility when and where they smoke.”

Xander Miller, a first-​​year stu­dent majoring in biology, agreed. Miller, an avid cyclist and flute player for whom reg­ular breathing exer­cises is essen­tial, expressed frus­tra­tion about having to walk through clouds of smoke out­side Snell Library or his dor­mi­tory, which he said are dis­rup­tive to his health.

Other pro­po­nents of a smoke-​​free campus noted health studies that show the harmful health effects of smoking and second-​​hand smoke, as well as the envi­ron­mental ben­e­fits from less smoke in the atmosphere.

Speakers on both sides applauded the forum being an impor­tant venue for con­struc­tive debate about sig­nif­i­cant issues on campus. “The impor­tant thing in this con­ver­sa­tion today is to keep the con­ver­sa­tion going,” one stu­dent said.

The dis­cus­sion often shifted to what smoke-​​cessation resources are cur­rently avail­able to stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff, and the impor­tance of edu­cating the North­eastern com­mu­nity about them. Fliers out­lining the resources avail­able through the Uni­ver­sity Health and Coun­seling Ser­vices and through Northeastern’s stu­dent health plan were also dis­trib­uted at the forum. Resources include coun­seling, employee assis­tance pro­gram, and helpful hot­lines and websites.

It was also announced that a new, free pro­gram called “Ready to Quit!” will launch on Friday that is cus­tomized for stu­dents that incor­po­rates text-​​messaging, ini­tial and follow-​​up meet­ings with health staff, and free nico­tine replace­ment prod­ucts. More infor­ma­tion will be avail­able on north​eastern​.edu/​u​hcs.