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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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More colleges move toward smoke-free residence halls

Colleges and universities across the country have begun to review and revise their smoking policies, as 4 million college students continue to smoke despite anti-smoking policies in residence halls and other public areas.

But GW administrators say they do not plan to change the University’s current policy, which matches smokers and non-smokers by preference as roommates.

The newest policy changes nationwide have shifted from prohibiting smoking in university buildings to confining it students’ living space. A 28 percent increase in the number of college students who smoke in the last six years, according to a Harvard University survey, has led several universities to establish smoke-free residence halls.

“The University is not responsible for regulating personal lifestyle,” said Robert Chernak, vice president for Student and Academic Support Services. “The issue is, at what point do you infringe on the freedom of students and the demand for personal space?”

USA Today surveyed the nation’s 30 largest colleges and universities about their smoking policies earlier this month. Of the 28 universities surveyed that provided student housing, 10 prohibit smoking in any of their residence halls and another seven universities reserve only 10 percent of their rooms for smokers.

Chernak said limiting the amount of rooms for smokers would result in a fundamental change in the lottery system by narrowing the number of selections for certain students. He said GW also needs to fill an inventory of beds each year.

USA Today reported that Purdue University will triple its number of non-smoking rooms this year, to make more than 30 percent of the school’s rooms non-smoking. The University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Arizona, which prohibit smoking in 90 percent of rooms, will hold a student vote this spring to increase that number. In addition, the University of Wisconsin at Madison will institute a complete ban on smoking in all housing beginning next fall.

Officials at other universities have used such policies to encourage smokers to move off campus. However, student opinions at GW have proven as diverse as the number and type of smoking policies across the country.

“I think (limiting smoking in dorms) is a good idea because it just smells really bad and its unpleasant to live in,” freshman Amy Erwitt said. “They have a right to smoke in public places but not in a shared environment with people who don’t.”

Chernak said the issue mirrors a recent situation in Montgomery County, Md., where the county council voted to prohibit smoking in bars and lounges. The owners of bars and lounges feared the decision could hurt business.

With the matching policies GW uses, smokers sometimes wind up with non-smoking roommates.

Chernak said sometimes smokers are matched with non-smokers because a parent completes the roommate preference form instead of the student.

However, other students have not been matched with their preferences.

“I think the University got lazy,” said one student smoker, who requested a smoking room and was placed in a non-smoking one and who asked not to be identified. “I’m sure that there are other priorities that are up there beyond matching smokers. I think it would be an infringement, however, if the University banned smoking in all rooms.”

While some students said a policy change would be beneficial, students also said they recognize the rights of other students.

“As a non-smoker, ideally I think (limiting smoking) is a good idea,” freshman Julie Harnik said. “But it does infringe on other people’s rights.”

Harnik said students should also be considerate of each other’s preferences.

Chernak said the University could adapt if a majority of students supported a change in the University smoking policy.

“We could have non-smoking floors in dorms, which would not encumber the University,” Chernak said.

But some students also supported the right of personal choices.

“Everybody should have a right to determine whether they live in smoke or smoke-free environment,” Harnik said.

“Right now it’s on the basis of personal preference and that’s the way it should be,” freshman Barron Gati said.

While the possibility for the change remains, the issue has not been presented to University officials yet.

“I don’t think it is something the University would mandate,” Chernak said. “But if an overwhelming number of students wanted a portion of dorms declared smoke-free, I don’t think that there would be resistance on part of the administration.”

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