Lead Editorial: Is a Smoke Free Campus Really Possible?

by Nicole Sydor

5 mins read
cigarette buts on brown soil
Photo by Sera Cocora on Pexels.com

On Jan. 1, 202, Drew University became a smoke-free campus. As such, the school implemented policies prohibiting the use and possession of smoke-related substances. This includes tobacco and nicotine products and e-cigarettes such as vapes and Juuls. The policy also extends to marijuana use and possession. According to Drew University’s website, the new rules were implemented in light of the United States Surgeon General’s statements regarding smoking which state, “Environmental tobacco has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, and that any exposure to tobacco and/or nicotine smoke is hazardous.” Furthermore, the University webpage devoted to the policy says Drew wanted to create a safe environment and protect the health and wellbeing of the community, considering that Group 1 carcinogens have the ability to cause cancer. 

In theory, a smoke-free campus is a fantastic idea. Prior to the implementation of these campus-wide regulations, smoking of all types was negatively impacting the campus and the environment. University air was being polluted by smoke from cigarettes, vapes and marijuana, not only outside but inside the dorms as well. Students reported smoke from other rooms seeping into their dorms through vents, hindering their ability to maintain a level of comfort while also exposing them to carcinogens. 

With the new policy, this cloud has cleared and there have been other considerable benefits. The primary benefit: protecting students and the general Drew community from being exposed to the harmful effects of smoking, tobacco and nicotine products, regardless of first or second hand exposure.  

However, the policy is problematic because it is extremely difficult to regulate and  implement for several reasons. Firstly, a significant portion of students who smoke have moved this activity indoors so as to avoid scrutiny or being reprimanded for smoking on campus. Although there has been significantly less  odor outdoors, dorm residents are experiencing more and more issues with smoke going through the vents into their dorm rooms. Not only is the smell of the smoke unpleasant to some residents but indoor smoking also increases the negative carcinogenic impact of the smoke because there is less circulation, which maintains the presence of the harmful gases in the air for longer periods of time. Regardless of how strictly the policy is enforced, students will find a way to continue their habits. 

Smoke-related littering has also significantly increased. Prior to the enactment of the smoke-free policy, ashtrays were located above garbage cans all around campus. At that time, students were more likely to put out their cigarette butts in the ashtrays as opposed to on the ground. However, due to the removal of the ashtrays on campus with the 2021 policy change, certain areas have become littered with cigarettes. Putting cigarettes out in this manner also increases the risk of a forest fire. According to the American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation website, “One of the biggest causes of fires, be it structural or a wildfire, are discarded cigarette butts.” Additionally, the National Park Service website states that 85% of wildland fires in the U.S. are caused by humans. Throwing butts onto the ground also pollutes the environment by seeping into waterways and contaminating drinking water, and poses a threat to animals which may attempt to eat them.

close up photo of cigarette
Photo by Basil MK on Pexels.com

The policy is a terrific idea in theory, but its major downfall is that it is extremely difficult to enforce, which has in turn caused a slew of new problems for campus life and the local environment. As student smokers have moved inside to avoid punishment, other students are being involuntarily exposed to the harmful carcinogens in their residence halls, which will continue to affect them more drastically than outdoor smoking because of the lack of ventilation within the buildings. Not to mention, the smoking regulations are even more difficult to combat when students smoking outside refuse to comply or cite cultural reasons for their smoking. In order to create a campus which is safest for all students involved, campus policy needs to be greatly improved and Drew must implement a better means of application in order to truly be effective.

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