The University Senate will host a town hall next Monday for students and faculty to debate a campus-wide smoking ban, but it’s still unclear whether the current rules are being enforced effectively.
The current smoking ban prohibits smoking within 20 feet of buildings, and new signs have been posted around building entrances this fall. But some involved in the smoking ban debate say that the policy remains unclear to most students.
Student senator Alex Frouman, CC ’12, who helped develop the 20-foot rule in the senate last year, said the ban’s implementation has been ineffective.
“Facilities have moved ashtrays. Sometimes these have been moved back. Signs have been put up,” Frouman said. “It has not been effective because it has not been communicated with a centralized voice to every member of the community.”
Business School professor and senator Mark Cohen, who has led the push for a full campus smoking ban, agreed that the current policy has had little effect on campus.
“It has not been particularly apparent,” Cohen said.
But Vice President of Student and Administrative Services Scott Wright, who has worked on the policy’s enforcement across campus though he is only responsible for the residence halls and Lerner Hall, said it has been implemented effectively by moving ashtrays and putting up the new signs.
“One of the ways I felt I did communicate it in spring was through Spec and Bwog and campus email,” he said.
Wright added that he has noticed some “change in behavior” on campus, especially a notable decline in smoking on the plaza outside the International Affairs Building.
“I have yet to have a single person say to me, ‘What 20-foot rule?’” Wright said. “I’m not sure I agree with people not knowing about 20-foot rule because I don’t see people violating it where there are signs.”
But Wright said that he supports Cohen’s effort to ban smoking from campus entirely, saying he always viewed the 20-foot compromise as a stepping-stone to a full ban.
“I definitely support a full ban—not only smoke-free but tobacco-free campus,” Wright said.
The town hall to debate a full ban will be held Monday at 4:30 p.m. in 104 Jerome Greene Hall. The USenate will likely vote on Cohen’s proposal for a full ban at its Oct. 14 plenary meeting.
The senate passed its 20-foot rule in December, but even then, Cohen was pushing for a full ban.
It’s unclear how much support he has in the senate, but in a straw poll of 39 senators remaining at the end of a plenary last year, 27 were in favor a full ban, with 10 opposed and two abstentions.
There are 108 senators, although only about half tend to show up to the typical plenary.
“The core issue is that secondhand smoke is deadly,” Cohen said. “It’s not a hypothesis on my part or a presumption.”
But Frouman said that Cohen has little support outside the senate—a vote of all Engineering Student Council and Columbia College Student Council members, he said, showed 45 members opposed to a full ban, with only two in support. Another student senator, Ron Mazor, CC ’09, Law ’12 and a strong opponent of a full-campus ban, said that Cohen’s proposal would not work any better than the current policy.
“The notion of restricting personal behavior based on laws is never going to be effective,” Mazor said.
Cohen disagreed. “Compliance with mandates which restrict—like traffic lights—is mostly voluntary … I would suggest that the evidence where this has been done would suggest that most would comply,” Cohen said.
Cohen also argued that a full ban could save the University money. Wright agreed, although a recent report from The College Fix indicated that the University of Michigan, on a very large campus, has already spent nearly $240,000 implementing a smoking ban it approved in July.