Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, June 22, 2017

ON STANDS NOW: Effectiveness of smoking ban in doubt

A year after AU implemented its campus wide smoking ban on Aug. 15, 2013, administrators are evaluating the outcome of the new policy with many students questioning its effectiveness.  

Allison Butler, a senior in the School of Communication, noticed a change in the location of smokers rather than a decrease in the number of people smoking.

“It was usually one person smoking in a group of people as opposed to now its usually [about] 15 people smoking together,” Butler said. “I found it less annoying than having to walk through the mass hoard of smokers on the corner of New Mexico and Nebraska now.”

The migration of smokers to the outskirts of campus, as observed by Butler and other students, suggests that students, staff and faculty are complying to the ban.

The University organized a team of Tobacco Free Ambassadors comprised of student workers and volunteer staff and faculty to encourage compliance with the policy. When originally created, there were 10 ambassadors, according to Dean of Students Robert Hradsky. However, due to complaints from individuals calling for greater enforcement of the policy, that number was increased to 15 for this semester, Hradsky said in an email.

The ambassadors keep a record of how many “encounters” they have with people violating the policy, according to Hradsky. When the policy was first implemented in fall 2013, there were 227 encounters. However, that number has been steadily decreasing, with 42 encounters in the spring of 2014, Hradsky said in an email. 

Anyone caught smoking on AU grounds is given two verbal warnings before being referred to the disciplinary process that corresponds with his or her status on campus (student, staff or faculty).

According to University Policy, student violators are disciplined by the Dean of Students, and staff by the assistant vice president for Human Resources. Faculty conduct is enforced by the Provost. 

“In addition, we changed the patrolling structure for the group to focus on areas where violations occur most, and have enlisted the support of Public Safety officers to enforce the policy,” Hradsky said in an email.

Many students, however, are still questioning the stringency of the enforcement of the smoking ban. 

Samantha Young, a freshman in the School of International Service, has noticed that staff are more likely to reprimand students for smoking than Tobacco Free Ambassadors or Public Safety officers.

“I actually have not seen the smoking ban ever enforced on campus,” Young said. “I’ve seen students smoking sometimes, but I haven’t seen someone telling them to stop smoking. I actually did see some sort of food service worker here yelling at a group of students who were smoking on the [Mary Graydon Center] steps.” 

The ban was enacted in order to decrease risks to students’ personal safety, as the Eagle previously reported.

Alexa Kelly, a senior in the School of Communication, feels the smoking ban has improved the quality of life on campus.

“A major change that I’ve noticed from before to after the smoking ban was that the campus smells a lot better now than it did before the ban was implemented,” Kelly said. “Before campus smelled like the inside of a toaster, and now I can walk through campus and breathe easily.”

The school implemented a transition period for the 2013 fall semester when smoking was allowed only at three specific locations on campus: the Kogod Ellipse, the Roper/SIS walkway and the green space next to the tennis courts behind the Sports Center Annex, the Eagle previously reported.

Since then, students, staff or faculty who wish to smoke can only do so on the sidewalks and streets bordering campus, which are not owned by AU.

Mike Houle, a junior in the School of International Service, hasn’t noticed a drastic change in his smoking habits since the implementation of the ban in 2013. 

“It makes it a little bit harder to go out in between classes since we have to come out to the side streets and everything, but as far as frequency, I don’t think it’s changed,” Houle said. 

Smoking bans not only affect the campuses where they prohibit smoking, but they can influence the communities around them. Some neighbors have complained about the increased amount of litter from cigarette butts on the edges of campus, according to Associate Dean of Students Michelle Espinosa. 

“Concern has been expressed by neighbors and AU community members about the number of cigarette butts found near the smokers' poles at various locations around the perimeter of the campus,” she said in an email. “The amount of litter produced by this behavior is contradictory to the environmental goals behind the policy and contradicts the values of the University.”

Butler expressed concern for the way AU smokers are treating nearby neighborhoods when complying with the smoking ban.

“A lot of being a college in the city is having a good relationship with the neighborhoods around us,” Butler said. “That’s been a point of tension for AU numerous times throughout the years. And I don’t know that … making people smoke as they’re walking through the neighborhoods is necessarily the best way to fortify our relationship with the community.”

Eagle staff writer Kate Magill contributed to this report.

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