College to ban smoking in all dorms

The College has announced a new no-smoking policy, which will ban smoking in all student dorms and smoking within 25 feet of any College building. The change will go into effect at the end of the spring semester and be in place for summer dorm residents. An all-campus e-mail sent to students from President Schapiro and Dean Roseman announced the decision. A similar letter has been sent to College faculty and staff by Tom Kohut, dean of the faculty; Helen Ouellette, vice president for administration and treasurer and Schapiro.

“The College has several responsibilities,” the e-mail to students said. “To insure that smoking does not endanger others, to help educate members of the community about potential dangers to themselves, and to help as best it can those who want to quit.”

The decision comes after an extended period of discussion among members of senior staff and the Campus Safety Committee. Roseman said the issue has always been on senior staff’s agenda, even before she was appointed dean of students. College Council (CC) also addressed the issue in a Nov. 20 meeting.

While smoking is already prohibited in freshman dorms, Roseman said a number of factors contributed to the new policy, including the dangers of second-hand smoke exposure, the fire-safety issue presented by smoking and student complaints about the smell of cigarettes permeating dorms. She also cited recent studies by the Harvard School of Public Health, which have shown, she said, “that living in a smoke-free dorm dramatically reduces the chance a student will become an addicted smoker. Nonsmoking students have a 40 percent less chance of becoming smokers if they live in a smoke-free dorm.”

Roseman also said the classification of second-hand smoke as a Class-A carcinogen (Class-A carcinogens are those which have adequate human data indicating they cause cancer in people) “means that exposure to second-hand smoke, no matter how small, is dangerous.”

The 25-foot no-smoking perimeter around College buildings is recommended by the American College Health Association, Roseman said. “From what I understand, these are commonly used guidelines. We receive complaints of smoking right outside buildings; smoke is very readily sucked into ventilation systems and then re-circulated throughout buildings.”

The e-mail sent by Roseman and Schapiro acknowledges that eliminating second-hand smoke from dorms is the primary reason for enacting the smoking ban. However, in addition, Roseman said the fire-safety concerns were substantial. “In the last seven years, there have been six fires in college dormitories in New England due to carelessness with smoking materials. Fires caused by smoking kill more people than fires ignited by any other cause,” Roseman said.

Dave Boyer, associate director of security, said that security officers find remants of careless cigarette disposal “far too often.” In addition, he said, when students have been called in for the fire-safety sanction process (for having a candle in their room, for instance), one of the frequent criticisms Boyer hears is that the College allows smoking, an equally dangerous activity, but not candles. The new policy will eliminate the discrepancy.

The new policy is not without dissenters, however. When CC discussed the smoking ban in November, Council members voted not to endorse a ban on smoking, citing the concerns of several students who contacted their representatives. “[Students] felt that this policy unfairly limited what they could do in their own space,” said Scott Grinsell ’04, interim CC co-president. Noting that he believes the number of students who smoke in their rooms is small, he is still “concerned that these students may feel marginalized as a result.”

Ching Ho ’03, CC co-president, said the “overwhelming majority” of students who responded to CC inquiries into the matter were in favor of a smoking ban. Ho stressed the issue of fire safety, referring to a fire at a Seton Hall Univeristy dormitory in Jan.uary 2000 which led to the deaths of three students and injuries to 60 others. “However,” Ho said, “the smokers are getting screwed, citing the argument that the College should not interfere with their personal liberty.

“This argument also works the other way – nonsmokers are involuntarily subject to the effects of second-hand smoke against their individual liberty,” Ho said.

Initial reactions from smokers were mixed, with some indicating they did not mind the new rules and others being strongly opposed to it. (The Campus Safety Committee, which supported the new rules, has both smokers and non-smokers who were in favor of the ban.)

“Take a look outside. I can not wait to leave my room, walk 25 feet away from the building into the middle of a snow and wind storm just to smoke,” Ricardo Gomes ’05 said. “I think the College should still have a couple of smoking dorms. This gives students the option. If you don’t like smoke, don’t choose into a smoking dorm,” he said.

“I already live in a pretty anti-smoking environment, and have always had to smoke outside,” Rosie Smith ’06 said. “As for having to be 25 feet from the building, if it’s actually enforced it might cut down on the amount I smoke, just because you couldn’t step outside for a smoke break.”

Roseman said by 3:30 p.m. on Monday, the administration had already received numerous e-mails praising the decision, including notes from students and alums with children at the College.

Roseman said the College is still considering if and how to provide spaces for people to smoke 25 feet from buildings.

In tandem with the smoking ban, the College will increase its support services for students who wish to quit smoking, including smoking cessation programs to take place this spring free of charge. Faculty and staff who wish to quit smoking will have a program offered through the Wellness Corporation.

The College will also work towards “devising a system to enable those who choose to smoke to dispose of used cigarettes outdoors in an appropriate way.” Other consequences of the new policy will become apparent once it goes into effect, but Boyer, for instance, is already anticipating telling security officers who work at all-campus parties that they will not be able to smoke because of the required distance from buildings.