Forget enforcing the no-smoking policy. And forget creating a designated area, too. The discussion of smoking on Georgia State’s downtown campus requires a more nuanced approach than you might think.
In September of last year, The Signal ran a frontpage story on the apparent importance of creating designated smoking areas on Georgia State’s campuses. This was, of course, in response to frequent disregard for Georgia State’s tobacco-free policy by a consistent crowd of smokers in the Downtown Library Plaza.
On any given weekday, a centrally located nook of the plaza is populated by no fewer than 10 students smoking cigarettes. Students walking to and from the library and Sparks Hall are often hit with wafts of secondhand smoke, a point of contention that has gone unsolved by the Student Government Association (SGA) and the university itself.
“I’m not going to lie, it was not the easiest process,” then-candidate for president Franklin Patterson said of his efforts to address the smoking problem at the 2018 SGA debate.
Franklin, you’re right. On one hand, students and faculty want the university to actively enforce its tobacco-free policy. On the other, students simply want a designated smoking area where they are free from ridicule and attention. Here’s why both won’t work.
A POINTLESS POLICY
Georgia State’s tobacco-free rule, which was implemented by the university in 2012, has been described as a “community policy” by university spokesperson Andrea Jones, meaning it isn’t — and can’t be — actively enforced by the university.
Legally, smoking on campus isn’t breaking any laws. So, how exactly does Georgia State intend uphold this policy?
“We recommend that community members remind each other of the smoking ban on campus and if they see repeated offenders, let the dean of student’s office or Human Resources know,” Jones said.
The university must know this is bogus. Who actually thinks students are going to request identification from each smoker they see in the plaza and report them to the dean? It’s a ridiculous amount of effort that won’t ever actually quell the problem, and it’s a laughable punishment (if you can call it one at all).
Brett Reichert, associate director of international student and scholar services, wrote a brazen rebuke, published as a letter to the editor last year, of the university’s apathy towards enforcing its own policies. Reichert then reached out to me recently to rekindle the discussion on this issue.
“I hope that the multi-million dollar plans to create a green space and renovate Library Plaza over the next years will protect the smokers, too. As for the non-smokers and their lungs, well, that’s why we have health insurance, right? They can always walk around the block or transfer to a school with a backbone too if they don’t like it,” Reichert said.
A LOST CAUSE FOR DESIGNATION
And for those who are holding out hope for a designated smoking area, you’re out of luck. To officially carve out a designated space for smokers on Georgia State’s campus would effectively walk back a six-year public health policy.
Think about it: Can Georgia State really tout itself as a “tobacco-free” campus if it has a designated smoking area? No, it can’t.
And consider the practicality of such an area, too. An appeal of smoking in Library Plaza is that it’s a centrally located area on the downtown campus. Whether you’re walking to class, to your dorm or to the student center, the Library Plaza is the perfection location to enjoy a dose of nicotine and peoplewatch.
If Georgia State were to create a designated smoking area, they obviously would not want it to be a highly visible area. That wouldn’t be good for the student tours. Instead, it would need to be in a tucked-away location that would be far too inconvenient to use practically.
WHATEVER SHOULD WE DO?
During SGA’s first convention of senators on Aug. 30, Senator Kaelen Thomas broached the topic of smoking on campus, as I’m sure at least one senator does each year.
Sen. Thomas noted during the meeting that he did not want to “ostracize a portion of the student body” by taking a hardline stance and removing smokers from the plaza. But Thomas’ outlook on the issue couldn’t have been more clear.
“I’m thinking about drafting a resolution — that hopefully gets passed — that [states that] Student Government definitely condemns the actions of students who choose to smoke in non-smoking areas,” Thomas said after the meeting.
When asked when we could see concrete initiatives from SGA on the issue, Sen. Thomas said, “Before the end of September.”
Kaelen, I admire your ambition. And if you can make that happen, I will personally dress up as a giant no-smoking sign and stand in support of you in the plaza. I say this sincerely, and only because I worry this issue on campus will continue to remain ignored by the university for years after we are both gone.
As you can now see, this topic isn’t as straightforward as many would like it to be. It’s not as simple as enforcing the policy. We can’t just make the police arrest smokers — that would be illegal. And it’s not as simple as creating a designated smoking area. That’s not practical and it would directly contradict the university’s six-year standing policy (no matter how bogus that policy may be).
LET THE SCIENCE SPEAK
I often wonder if the university is doing everything it can. A 2011 study by researchers at the University of North Carolina found that community colleges with a 100 percent ban on smoking saw significantly fewer cigarette butts at doors than did campuses with no restrictions.
Perhaps the same can be said for Georgia State’s campuses. If Georgia State were to rid itself of the no-smoking policy, it’s likely that even more students would smoke, and in significantly more public spaces, at that.
However, this still doesn’t escape the fact that nearly 25 percent of students are initiated to smoking in college, and secondhand smoking plays a considerable role in convincing students that smoking is acceptable.
In a 2017 study, college students who reported having been exposed to secondhand smoke were nearly 150 percent more likely to indicate susceptibility to smoking in the future. The study later noted that an estimated 80 percent of college students report secondhand smoke exposure in general.
Cigarettes are becoming ever more socially unacceptable, but as long as our consistent crowd of students propagate their smoke in Library Plaza, non-smoking students will continue to be negatively affected. It’s a health risk, through and through.