Smoke-​​free campus debate moves to Faculty Senate

The Fac­ulty Senate on Wednesday engaged in a lively dis­cus­sion about the university’s plan to explore a smoke-​​free campus, con­tin­uing a new committee’s effort to gather feed­back on the issue.

Terry Fulmer, dean of the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, and John Auer­bach, director of the Insti­tute on Urban Health Research, are co-​​chairs of a com­mittee com­prised of stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff to explore the pos­si­bility of imple­menting a smoke-​​free campus policy. On Wednesday, Fulmer dis­cussed the issue with the Fac­ulty Senate.

“The oppor­tu­nity before us is to build on some of the exam­ples we see across some 1,100 non-​​smoking cam­puses across the country to create a public health approach to smoking ces­sa­tion pro­grams across our uni­ver­sity com­mu­nity,” Fulmer said.

Fol­lowing a lengthy dis­cus­sion that ranged from policy enforce­ment to smoking ces­sa­tion pro­grams and the public health impli­ca­tions of smoking, the Senate voted unan­i­mously in sup­port of urging the uni­ver­sity to “pro­ceed expe­di­tiously” toward imple­menting the “pro­grams, processes, and poli­cies needed to make North­eastern a smoke-​​free campus.” Throughout the dis­cus­sion, Senate mem­bers expressed over­whelming sup­port for pro­grams that help stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff quit smoking, though some expressed con­cern about imple­menting a campus-​​wide ban.

Lori Lefkovitz, the Rud­erman Pro­fessor and director of Jewish Studies, noted that a policy pro­hibiting smoking on campus could be overly med­dle­some into the lives of stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff.

“People are out­side in a public space—we are an open campus—and we are telling them what they cannot do,” said Lefkovitz, who ulti­mately voted in favor of the motion. “It feels beyond pater­nal­istic to tell an adult staff or fac­ulty member or a stu­dent that they cannot smoke.”

Hilary Poriss, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of music his­tory, said that she found Lefkovitz’s com­ments per­sua­sive, espe­cially in terms of imposing restric­tions on people within a free society. How­ever, she felt that the need to pro­tect people from the poten­tially harmful impacts of smoking out­weighed those con­cerns, noting that sec­ond­hand smoke out­side Ryder Hall pre­vents her from opening her office window during warm months.

Richard Daynard, University Distinguished Professor of Law, heads the Senate Agenda Committee and is a member of the smoke-free campus initiative committee. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Fulmer explained that the Uni­ver­sity Health and Coun­seling Ser­vices‘ Ready to Quit! pro­gram is already in place to help stu­dents quit smoking—which often requires mul­tiple attempts to fully break the pow­erful addic­tion (options for fac­ulty and staff are avail­able through employee insur­ance and HRM pro­grams). She also stressed that a poten­tial ban wouldn’t be meant to take a “law-​​and-​​order” approach, but rather a public-​​health strategy.

Richard Day­nard, Uni­ver­sity Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Law who heads the Senate Agenda Com­mittee and is a member of the smoke-​​free campus ini­tia­tive com­mittee, said a pro­hi­bi­tion on smoking would spark an impor­tant social change, a “nor­ma­tive” move sim­ilar to progress made by Mass­a­chu­setts smoking bans in restau­rants and bars.

Since the ini­tia­tive to explore a smoke-​​free campus was announced, the com­mittee has pri­or­i­tized gath­ering feed­back from the North­eastern com­mu­nity in a variety of ways, including through a web­site ded­i­cated to the issue, email, and by seeking feed­back from the many uni­ver­si­ties nation­wide that have imple­mented some form of a smoke-​​free policy.

In addi­tion, a forum held last month drew a wide range of opin­ions from stu­dents, who spoke out both against and in favor of a campus-​​wide smoking ban.

After gath­ering more feed­back, the com­mittee is expected to present its rec­om­men­da­tions this spring. Mem­bers of the North­eastern com­mu­nity can submit feed­back by emailing smokefreeinitiative@​neu.​edu.