With only two months remaining before the deadline, the College is preparing for the transition to a smoke and tobacco-free campus. While the run up has dealt with education, how the ban will be enforced and what will its effect be on campus climate remain open questions.
Rules against open-air smoking are gaining traction in many colleges across the country. City of New York Colleges went smoke-free in the fall of 2012, followed by State of New York Colleges in 2014. According to the Smoke Free website, Vassar will join the list of around 1500 smoke-free colleges and universities.
The new policy is expansive, prohibiting the smoking of cigarettes on Vassar grounds. Prior rules allowed for smoking at least 50 feet away from building entrances. Along with cigarettes, other methods of nicotine consumption like e-cigarettes, hookah, cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco will also be banned.
After more than a year of deliberation and debate, the official announcement of the ban came in November 2013, in an campus-wide email sent by President Hill.
“By enacting this initiative Vassar is underscoring its commitment to a healthy environment for all members of the college community,” Hill wrote. “Our timeframe for this initiative allows for information dissemination and education efforts.”
These two missions, spreading the word about the new policy and what it represents, are the responsibilities of the Smoke Free/Tobacco Free Implementation Task Force, a committee composed of administrators, faculty, and a student representative. Director of Health Services Dr. Irena Balawajder, who will co-chair the Task Force, explained that the Administration made its decision for the sake of the campus’s wellbeing.
“Something you have to understand is that, from a public health point of view, taking away second-hand smoke on college campuses is beneficial to health,” said Balawajder. “Faced with the choice of either not being able to smoke in the workplace, [people] think a little more seriously about ways to quit smoking. Once you quit smoking, no matter what your age is, you do add years to your life.”
Strategies the Task Force have used to educate Vassar’s students and workforce include posters and tabling at the College Center. The campaign even extends to people who are not at Vassar right now but may be in the future. Posts on the employment website tell job applicants, “Effective July 1, 2015, Vassar College will become smoke free/tobacco free campus.”
Meanwhile, visible effects of the new rules will soon be coming to campus. The receptacles used to discard cigarette butts in front of Main and the Library will be removed. The college will place new signs at all campus entrances. Finally, all visitor passes will be stamped “smoke free, tobacco free.”
Even if the Task Force manages to make everyone aware of the ban, questions of how to enforce it are still unresolved. “At the moment, the main thing is still continuing education and seeing basically what happens,” Balawadjer remarked.
Assistant Director of Human Resources and Employee Wellness Sarah Bakke is the other co-chair of the Smoke Free Task Force. She explained how one of her aims is to handle any situations with tact. “We’ll be as respectful as we can be to smokers,” said Bakke. “We don’t really have an idea as to how this is going to unfold, and security is very aware of what their increased responsibilities might be, and so is human resources.”
Acting Director of Safety and Security Kim Squillace described what the expected protocol would be if a student is cited for smoking. “The officers will be asking smokers to please extinguish their cigarette reminding them that Vassar is a smoke free environment. The officer will ask for them their name and a report will be generated as standard procedure. As with any violation of college regulations it will be addressed through the judicial process,” wrote Squillace in an emailed statement.
According to the Task Force, the application of the new rules would hew close to Vassar’s no-smoking policy in its offices and residences, and sanctions would be taken only for individuals who were found to be repeatedly defying the code.
Balawajder, however, believes that the ban can enforced without punitive measures. “We’re relying on a community enforcement in many ways,” she explained. “So if someone does see someone smoking they can go and respectfully say ‘this is a smoke-free campus.’”
Habitual smokers are still a minority among students. According to a survey conducted on campus in 2010, two-thirds of students reported having never used cigarettes. Meanwhile, 16.2% of students reported smoking in the past 30 days, and of that group only 2.2% said they smoked daily.
Another job of the Task Force has been to organize smoking cessation workshops for college employees and students who would be interested in quitting before the first of July. While some employees are joining the workshops, they have failed to draw students.
Last year, The Miscellany News reported that not a single student had signed up for a seven-week workshop in the spring of 2014. Earlier this month, Bakke organized for a therapeutic hypnotist to come to campus for two free cessation sessions. While over 20 people registered for the session, only one was a student. “I was surprised,” Bakke noted. “I thought the hypnotist might be a draw for students and employees. Sometimes the classes because they are seven-weeks total for once a week, they’re too big of a commitment for some people.”
Student support for the ban has been generally mixed. A survey conducted by the Committee on College Life in 2013 found 55% of students not in favor of a smoke/tobacco free policy. An earlier survey by the Vassar Student Association found an even higher number, 65%, of students opposed.
Jared Davis ’17 is one such student against the ban. He believes that the Administration has overstepped its authority by moving unilaterally to become smoke-free. “Not that their decision has bad intentions or even a bad decision, but I don’t think they have the authority to make that decision they made,” Davis posited. “I would also like to say that in terms of enforcement and application I don’t think they’re going to have much success.”
The decision on the ban, however, shows no sign of being reversed. Vassar grounds are private property, and have the legal right to make such a move.
Bakke sees the campus as joining the growing list of no-smoking areas. She said, “I think it is a culture change and it might take a year or two for people to get into that new culture, similar to when there became smoke-free shopping malls and smoke-free restaurants.