Postdoc attempts to ban smoking

Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor

Physics postdoc Patrick Coles has started a petition to ban smoking on the Carnegie Mellon campus.

As of last Thursday, the petition had received a total of 534 signatures on Coles said that he was “quite pleased by the support” his petition has received. “We are at the point where we should start talking to the administration,” he said. “The main issue is to protect people’s right to breathe clean air and to promote a healthy campus,” Coles said.

Coles recalled that he was inspired to start the petition after running on the campus track one evening, spending the time breathing in second-hand smoke from one of the designated smoking areas. The petition’s description cites a survey conducted in the spring of 2009, in which 89 percent of Carnegie Mellon undergraduate students claimed not to smoke.

Kelley Shell, health promotion specialist for Student Health Services, said that the survey had 480 respondents, almost all of whom were undergraduates. Shell said that smokers face “a whole array of cancers” and are “more susceptible to respiratory infections, bronchitis ... and, later in life, heart disease and stroke.” The Centers for Disease Control’s website corroborates Shell’s list of side effects. According to Shell, the dangers of second-hand smoke vary depending on the individual and his or her levels of exposure, with children being the most susceptible.

She added that “second-hand smoke is classified as a class-A carcinogen,” meaning that it contains cancer-causing agents. Second-hand smoke’s status as a carcinogen has been the subject of some controversy. The classification was struck down in 1998 by a U.S. District Court in North Carolina, which claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency had not followed required procedures when conducting the study. However, this ruling was rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 2002.

The last proposal for banning smoking on campus was introduced in 2006, with Staff Council voting in favor of the idea, but with Student Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly rejecting the proposal.
Since posting the petition, Coles said that he has been impressed by some of the comments it has received online — comments that provide additional reasons to support a smoking ban, according to Coles. First-year German and international relations major Jamison Howell said that he is in support of the proposed smoking ban, especially since he is allergic to cigarette smoke. “It’s a shame I wasn’t at Carnegie Mellon in 2006,” Howell said in response to the previous attempt at a ban.

Howell complained that the current smoking policy is not being enforced and claimed that the current designated smoke areas are poorly placed, specifically citing one in close proximity to the Children’s School playground and others in popular campus areas. Coles said, “Even if this doesn’t go through, the administration should be aware of the non-ideal placement of existing smoking areas.”

However, some people, such as first-year information systems major Michael Probber, are opposed to the notion of a campus-wide smoking ban. “I believe everybody has the right to their own decisions,” Prober said. “Students didn’t sign up for a smoke-free campus.” Instead, Probber suggested that the petition be for the restructuring of designated smoking areas along with stricter enforcement, as he felt a ban would “infringe on the rights of others.”

“In theory, [restructuring designated smoking areas] would be effective at reducing people’s exposure [to second-hand smoke] on campus,” Shell said. But she said that this has been hard in practice. Shell claimed that a campus-wide smoking ban would be easier to police than 30 designated areas across campus, which she feels are not well marked. Coles said that his smoking ban proposal is different from the 2006 attempt because of the changing culture at large. “What’s a bit different is that there’s a national movement, with 648 colleges, as of Jan. 2, now enacting this policy,” Coles said. “I think people’s minds are changing.”

A list of the 648 institutions that have passed campus-wide smoking bans has been made available online by the American Nonsmokers’ Right Foundation. Since the last attempt at a campus-wide smoking ban, the administration has taken some steps to improve the campus’ environmental health. According to the Carnegie Mellon Environmental Health and Safety website, these steps include a $25 fine for the improper disposal of cigarette butts. In the past, the “20-foot rule,” which disallows smoking within 20 feet of any Carnegie Mellon building, was also implemented.