SHARYN O’HALLORAN: Good afternoon. I’m Sharyn O’Halloran. I’m the George Blumenthal Professor of Political Economy at Columbia University as well as the chair of the Executive Committee of the University Senate, and I would like to welcome everyone to the town hall meeting on Columbia University smoking policy. And that is being hosted by the University Senate. So please come down. Many seats.
Now the purpose of this town hall meeting is really twofold. One is to update the community about the rollout of a policy the University Senate enacted last spring regarding restrictions of smoking around the Columbia University buildings to 20 feet. And this is just now taking place. You will see the increased signage around the buildings, and people are now becoming cognizant that there is a new policy in place and this is to inform the community and to get feedback on how that is going. It also is to get some early feedback on a proposal sponsored primarily by Senator Mark Cohen from the Business School to ban smoking on Columbia University campus entirely, not only on the Morningside Campus but university-wide.
Now what is said tonight will provide the basis of recommendations on how the Columbia University community can best gauge what is a public health issue, while at the same time staying true to our mission of an open and free environment for teaching and learning and research that’s conducive to everyone, smoking or nonsmoking. And so in many ways your participation is both welcomed and very important for this ongoing debate.
The structure for the discussion tonight will be a set of overview presentations from our three panelists, and then an opportunity for the community to ask questions and provide feedback or comments, to get suggestions on how the rollout is working or perhaps not working as well as one would have liked. Alex Frouman, who’s a co-chair of the Student Affairs Committee at the University Senate and a College senior, will give background on the current policy, again which restricts smoking within 20 feet of campus buildings. Michael McNeil, who chaired the campus tobacco work group and is also in the Health Services, will provide a discussion on the implementation and rollout of the current policy. Mark Cohen from the Business School will discuss a proposal to ban smoking on the Morningside Campus and to expand that ban to the entire university as well, which would include not only Morningside, CUMC, which already has a smoking ban, but also Lamont and Nevis and the other affiliates and the Manhattanville campus as well. We will then open up the floor for discussions, questions and comments.
Now just some ground rules. We want everyone to have an opportunity to express their opinions, and the Senate believes and the university believes that a free expression of opinion is absolutely necessary, and that all members of the community should have an opportunity to express those views in a safe environment. And we ask that everyone be allowed to state their opinions without interruption and that indeed when you make your comments or questions that they’re relatively short, hopefully under two minutes, and that way the panel will be able to hear the full range of discussion from the Columbia community. So we’re going to open this up, and I want to thank you very much for joining us this afternoon, and we look forward to a very positive discussion.
So first up will be Alex, and he’ll provide you with some of the background material.
ALEX FROUMAN: Thank you guys all for coming. As Sharyn said, my name is Alex Frouman. I’m the co-chair of the Student Affairs Committee on the University Senate. I’m a senior in Columbia College. It’s my third year on the Senate. I’ve been fairly involved with the tobacco policy for the past three years, from its inception to now. I’d just like to provide a history of the current policy, talk a little bit about the resolution that you have in front of you, if you’d like to pull it out, and then a little bit about what the motivations were for the policy and why I think this policy makes a lot of sense for Columbia.
So the current resolution was adopted December 3rd of last year. The vote was over a two-to-one ratio in favor of the resolution. The numbers are in front of you. And it’s entitled “A New Smoking Policy for Columbia University’s Morningside Campus.” It only applied to the Morningside campus, and that was the focus of the discussion. And, I think, this is a policy that is respectable, responsible and reasonable for the community.
I need to give a history lesson on it. I found that the resolution itself does a pretty good job. It started in 2008 with Vice President Scott Wright, who was investigating the smoking policy on this campus. Just recently, smoking within 20 feet of residence halls had been prohibited by New York State, and in enacting that policy we wanted to see if our policies were consistent across the Morningside campus where we do have residence halls on campus. And that was the impetus for the tobacco work group.
The tobacco work group had staff, students, and administrators from throughout the school and spent a couple years reviewing laws, the policies of peer institutions and scholarly literature on tobacco’s long-term effects. And Michael McNeil served and I guess chaired the work group. He’ll be able to talk a little bit more about it later and answer any questions you have.
At the end of the work group, they came to the plenary meeting and had discussions with the External Relations Committee of the Senate and the full Senate body. And the work group considered various recommendations such as an outright ban, designated smoking areas, the status quo, and a consistent distance rule, which is ultimately what we chose.
So the idea of the consistent distance rule is, you take that 20 feet that we’re mandated to have around residence halls on this campus and extend it to the entire campus, provide clarity to smokers so there’s one policy for all of the Morningside campus, so there’s no confusion. The Senate took the recommendation of the work group, and enacted the policy last December.
Now we worked with Vice President Wright who started the work group a few years ago, and he agreed with the 20-foot recommendation. This was done in collaboration with his office and the Senate External Relations Committee, as I mentioned, worked very closely with the implementation of this policy.
So we adopted this resolution. It clearly established a consistent distance rule. It emphasizes the cessation programs already available to members of the Columbia community and encourages implementation of the ban to provide cessation information for individuals on campus. We looked into finding the appropriate people on this campus to be responsible for enforcement. And last, I really want to emphasize the first part of this resolved clause, that the Senate External Relations Committee will review the new policy within two years. And we set up a process for the Senate to revisit this policy within a limited time frame and evaluate its effectiveness and see whether there should be any additional steps as outlined in the rest of that clause.
So, the idea of this resolution is to be respectful, responsible, and reasonable. Respectful to smokers, respectful to nonsmokers and to the work group. Nonsmokers, by moving cigarette smoke away from buildings so it doesn’t go into windows or ventilation shafts or stay congested around the doorways. Respect for the smokers, not asking them to move too far, not to inconvenience them if it wasn’t necessary. And respectful to the work group and the process it underwent, including a scientific poll of the relevant student bodies, to make sure that we are really respecting the hard work of people who had spent much more time than the Senate had, asking the very specific questions about the tobacco policy at Columbia.
And when I say responsible, it’s because it was a levelheaded policy that’s self-evaluating. It was built in within a concrete time frame when we’d evaluate this policy and determine whether it really worked and was effective for the community.
Reasonable because it emphasized compliance over enforcement. Twenty feet seemed reasonable at the time, where maybe we wouldn’t need to enact a full ban or encourage Public Safety to pull the cigarettes out of people’s hands. Maybe the community could coalesce around this because it made sense.
Now, a lot of people asked before and now, is it going to work, will people comply? And I didn’t say it was perfect, and it’s not because perfect doesn’t start with an R. It’s because the idea of this resolution is that we implement the policy as a step, take the time requisite to evaluate whether that was an effective step, and then ask ourselves after we’ve seen the policy for a couple of years after it’s been implemented, did people comply with it, did we need enforcement, did it work at all? And that was the idea behind the policy we passed last year. And the idea that I’d like to express is that stopping that process now—when real implementation of the policy has only been around for a couple of weeks, if you realize that there hasn’t been communication with the student body, the faculty, the staff, the administrators, signs have just gone up—would be the opposite of the principles that were the foundation of this resolution. It would be disrespectful, irresponsible, and unreasonable to stop the resolution now instead of keeping our word and standing by it. And disrespectful to the hard work of the work group for not evaluating the policy that they recommended. Disrespectful to the Senate and disrespectful to the community by changing our word before the resolution that we enacted and we brought to the community is completed. So irresponsible because it circumvents this process of self-evaluation that insures that the policy is fair. It adds confusion to the community. People now don’t know what to comply with because there’s a current policy that’s just barely been enacted, and now we’re talking about a new one. And it damages the credibility of the Senate if we come to you and say we passed a policy, this is what we believe, and this is our timeline, and all of a sudden we interrupt it and we break our word.
And it would be unreasonable to try to change policy before we can actually evaluate the current one. The idea of the two-year time frame was implemented to observe it and reflect on it, not change it before it even exists in a reasonable form on this campus.
So in conclusion, I think the Senate really needs to be clear, consistent, and reliable with the community, build the trust of the community by keeping its word when it passes a policy and sticking to that timeline and respecting the process such as the work group, and empower students, faculty and staff to come together and agree on what a policy ought to be, and then review the policy in the appropriate time and not jump the gun before really having information that we need to adjust and move forward.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
O’HALLORAN: Thanks. The next up will be Michael McNeil. Please.
MICHAEL McNEIL: So good afternoon, everyone. I’m Michael McNeil. I’m the director of Alice!, which is a unit of Columbia Health, and I had the privilege to serve as chair of the work group that spent a great deal of time, as Alex described, taking a look at this issue.
As was noted, with the pending change to the state law around residence halls, it brought to light the need to just take a quick look and make sure that the documentation that we were preparing for students who would be arriving on campus that particular fall was compliant with the state law. But it also led to the discovery that we had no fewer than five policy documents on smoking just for the Morningside campus that had very, very different language in them, leading to what could be seen as notable confusion. Who you are, where you were standing, what the function of a particular building was, etc., might govern the expectations. And then some buildings had chosen to adopt their own regulations and that just added to the confusion.
So the work group spent a lot of time. Held four open forums for people to provide feedback. There was an e-mail process, there was the scientific poll of the students, which ultimately produced a recommendation that the Senate then adopted.
Since that time, we have focused our energy on actually putting together the final language of the wording for the policy, changing the policy document. In this case, having one document replace multiple documents in various different systems at a large and complex university like Columbia is not an easy task, but one that we took our time to make sure was done correctly. That being said, all that language was completed and disseminated, and then really the hard work began of how to let people know.
Through Human Resources a process was undertaken to provide information to employees. For the students, and I know this question has come up quite a bit, the main mechanism for dissemination of these types of policy changes is through the deans and their respective schools and colleges. That information was provided to all the schools on the Morningside campus.
Additionally, there was the process of developing signage. You may or may not be aware Columbia has some fairly set regulations on the look of signage, the appropriate placement, etc., and it was important for any signs that were going to be placed to be compliant with those policies of the university.
That’s all now happened. Additionally and in intervening spaces, receptacles were moved at least 20 feet away, etc. There was some clarification on the street side, sidewalk pieces that needed to be done looking at the laws of the city and who controls what space. And there was a lot of minutiae to this that we had to work through after the Senate’s adoption of this. And I can say we, for the most part, completed that process. Most people now are more aware, the signage is up. If nothing else, this new process has brought light to the actions of the Senate from December, and we can say, that I think from an implementation perspective, a little bit short on the communication piece, but otherwise all of the rest of the pieces have now either been completed or are very, very near to completion.
That being said, the work group actually officially disbanded just shy of a year ago now, with the adoption of the Senate resolution. And I will say that left most of the work in the hands of a few dedicated volunteers, a couple of whom are in the room, and I want to just thank them for taking that extra step.
Outside of that, I really don’t know that I have much more to report. You know, we did our work, we did due diligence on this issue, we really thought about it. The entire summary of findings from that work, due process, is available to those who are interested. It’s been shared with the Senate. I do believe it was linked on the Senate website. I believe the Spec put it out there. I mean, there was considerable effort to get it out there. So hopefully, if you haven’t seen that information and want to see it, if you have any particular concerns about what has happened in this process, certainly I can address those.
I will take a brief moment to mention the enforcement piece because this has been the point around which more people have reached out to me than any other. We believe very much in Columbia as a community, and that with a community with a shared set of values also comes a shared set of responsibilities. A carefully considered decision was made that enforcement of the smoking policies is the responsibility of every member of the Columbia community. There is not a single individual or office that should be the person or persons charged with addressing this policy. Just as with other university policies, we need to hold each other accountable. That was the belief and that was the strategy adopted with the finalization of the language, that each person has the responsibility to address this, whether in their own behavior and choices, or through observation of others in the community. A number of people have pointed out to me that when they point out the information around a 20-foot rule to somebody who may not be complying with that expectation, that overwhelmingly the acknowledgement is, “I didn’t know, no problem.” And they have moved. I can’t say that anybody’s told me about that experience on a rainy day, but generally speaking, people, smokers, have willingly complied and voluntarily done so. But enforcement as it sits is everyone’s shared responsibility as a member of the Columbia community.
O’HALLORAN: One other important piece was smoking cessation. Would you like to speak to that?
McNEIL: Yes, sure. So part of the literature review that Alex acknowledged was looking at what happens on a college or university campus when policy is changed. And generally speaking—the literature also talks about both college-specific and population—when policy changes it tends to help encourage those who are thinking about quitting to actually make a quit attempt, many of whom will go on to succeed. And the majority of people who smoke don’t actually plan to do it for a lifetime. So we thought it was very, very important to provide links to information around cessation to those that may be seeking it. There are very different resources available depending on the population. So if you’ve seen the signs, you notice that they specify resources that are available to students, employees, and then there are additional resources for those living in the five boroughs of New York City. And we thought it was important to be able to link people quickly to those.
There’s an additional document being developed that breaks it down in even more detail that will be made available through the Office of Work/Life and through Columbia Health for the employees and the student side respectively. I will note that all of the cessation services are already covered through systems that exist. So, for example, for students there is no charge for the cessation services, including access to over-the-counter nicotine replacement products through Columbia Health. For employees, it’s built into both the Employee Assistance Program and all the health insurance plans available to employees.
O’HALLORAN: Thank you. [Applause] Mark Cohen will now provide us with an overview of a proposed ban.
MARK COHEN: Thank you. Bear with me for just a moment. This was the presentation that I made at the Senate’s plenary in September, which I’m told was well attended though it was in the context of a monsoon and some 30 or 40 senators were unable to attend. So I’m going to repeat that briefly to give everyone here who missed that some context.
Evidence of smoking throughout the campus is ever-present and extremely unattractive. Whether it’s one butt that offends your sensibility or a few, more to the point there are cigarette butts everywhere you look, with or without regard to the receptacles that have historically and are currently placed at strategic points on the campus. But the resolution that I’m asking the Senate to consider is not about aesthetics. In point of fact, secondhand smoke is a public health issue.
According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, secondhand smoke is dangerous and it’s dangerous at any concentration level. In fact, there is no safe threshold of exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke. Secondhand cigarette smoke has been proven to cause lung cancer and suspected as a cause of a host of other cancers and other diseases. In fact there are 7,000 compounds that have been identified in secondhand cigarette smoke, and of these 250 are deemed harmful and of those, 69 are known carcinogens.
As a result of the increasingly evident risks of secondhand smoke, hundreds of municipalities and institutions, including colleges, have expanded smoking prohibitions from indoor to indoor and outdoor spaces. Various government studies have estimated that incremental health care costs borne by smokers and paid for by all of us in the form of higher insurance premiums, exclusive of opportunity losses derived from lost wages, approximate $100 billion a year. Now I can’t verify that number, and even if you cut it in half, it’s still a staggering amount of money.
Curiously, smokers’ health care costs are diminished somewhat because smokers have shorter lifetimes than nonsmokers. Yes, of course, this is an issue of the contravention of individual rights to be considered. However, though we tend toward zealously guarding the rights of individuals, as a society we often encroach upon those rights selectively in pursuit of a greater good. So this is a little silly, but bear with me. Consider for example the imposition of traffic rules and regulations. I personally don’t have an issue with the presence of stop signs. I’ve long ago come to regard instructions from traffic signals as logical and orderly and have no trouble following them. When I was young, I had trouble with things like speed limits, but as I’ve gotten older, those too have become more rational in my world.
Consider a smoke-free Columbia. The 20-foot linear rule proposed by an interdisciplinary university task force and adopted by a resolution of the Senate last December is an inadequate measure born of unwarranted compromise. The proposal was a good-faith attempt to satisfy all campus constituents, but a compromise solution nonetheless. This measure in my view and in the view of many of you here in the Senate and throughout the Columbia community is unacceptable to all but a small minority of smokers. A strong indication of support for a more complete smoking ban was evidenced by two-thirds of the plenary in a straw vote taken immediately following the adoption of the current 20-foot rule. Much to the chagrin and irritation that many of you shared with me last spring, a new resolution which was to call for a more comprehensive smoking prohibition was tabled so that other issues such as ROTC, disclosure and university benefits could be addressed. It’s now possible and appropriate for us to revisit this matter.
Please consider as a framework the following resolution which would if enacted replace the resolution voted upon in December. “Smoking shall be prohibited from all outdoor spaces contained within the Morningside Heights campus, including spaces within the East Campus and the outdoor bridge across Amsterdam Avenue. Further, the Morningside campus is defined as the area bounded by 114th Street and 120th Street, Broadway, Amsterdam Avenue, and Morningside Drive.” In addition, smoking would be prohibited at all campus and building entrances and the outside perimeters of all Columbia University facilities and outside spaces not located on or approximated to the Morningside Heights campus within a distance that is deemed acceptable legally by University Counsel. This would include, for example, Baker Field, Nevis Laboratories, Lamont-Doherty, etc. This desire for consideration of greater scope than just the Morningside campus, which was discussed last year, is at the request of members of the university administration.
This resolution intends to unambiguously prohibit smoking from all Columbia University environs consistent with rules and regulations presently enacted and being enacted at other educational institutions as well as New York City and other municipalities throughout the country. This resolution intends to be compatible with and aligned with the smoking bans recently adopted by both the Columbia University Medical Center and Barnard College. Though this resolution will encroach upon a minority of individuals’ freedoms, it is intended to support the greater health and well-being of a larger Columbia University community of students, faculty and staff.
Some additional considerations. This new resolution if enacted would remain effective as early in 2012 on a date certain as deemed possible and appropriate by the university administration in consultation with the University Senate. To facilitate further dialogue this meeting was contemplated, and of course, is now being held. The discussion we had at the last plenary concerned the efficacy of when a potential vote could take place. We talked about that in the Executive Committee, and I don’t think we’ve come to a view. We’re going to meet on Friday, and it is my personal view that we should take action on this no later than the November meeting.
And I just want to make a few other very brief points. One of my learned colleagues tells me that smoking has killed more human beings in the twentieth century than all wars, and unless societal behavior changes, the same will occur in the twenty-first century. Where control of public spaces, such as perimeter city sidewalks and streets, does not reside with Columbia, where Columbia does not have the legal authority to restrict behavior in those areas, then I would propose that faculty, staff, students and visitors would be asked voluntarily to refrain from smoking within 50 feet of a Columbia building or campus entrance. This issue came up specifically in the plenary concerning College Walk, which is 116th Street. I’m told by the office of counsel of the university that 116th Street is under the legal authority and control of the university. And so it is not in fact a city street in that regard.
A new resolution would request from the university administration a suitable communication and signing plan and would ask that smoking cessation services in fact be expanded from what they represent today. So those are the remarks that I have to share with you. Thank you. [Applause]
O’HALLORAN: Okay. So those who have questions or comments, would you please raise your hand and put on your microphone and please identify yourself. That would be very helpful. You can state your name, please.
ARAM AVANESSIANS: My name is Aram Avanessians. I’m a freshman here at Columbia University. I actually have that same study that he was talking about before, and I have some interesting things about it, but here’s my speech. The national vital statistics report states that 2.4 million U.S. citizens died in 2009. Cancer.gov reports that “approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths occur each year among nonsmoking adults in the United States as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.” The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that living with a smoker increases a nonsmoker’s chances of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent. There also may be a link between exposure to secondhand smoke and the risk of a stroke and hardening of the arteries. However, additional research is needed to confirm this link.
If we take the deaths that have been scientifically proved to be linked to secondhand smoke, 3,000, and find the relationship between that and the total U.S. deaths, we come to find that .13 percent of nonsmoking Americans die from exposure to indoor or stationary smoking. An example of stationary smoking is having a cigarette while waiting for an outdoor train. If there’s a smoker standing on the platform, the nonsmoker on that platform has no way to avoid the smoke but to move. It is not right for the nonsmoker to be forced to move just because they are both waiting for the same train. This is why smoking on outdoor platforms was just recently banned in New York City. On the street, however, you do not have this effect. On the street people are walking about and have a free range of motion. The problem is not smoking on sidewalks but that of motionless congregation such as a bench of a building or on the greens of a park.
Columbia University is just like a society, and like a society a Columbia resident can live a fulfilling year without ever setting foot outside the community. Columbia is a vibrant society in which a student can eat fresh food, drink clean water, sleep undisturbed, learn new things, optimize physical fitness and feel secure. It is essentially a small version of New York City. To ban smoking in my house, the dorm, is understandable because the health risks of indoor smoking have recently been proved to be a serious health issue, which is why I cannot light up in Butler as my father did in the seventies. But to ban smoking outside my house, the campus, is to ban me from the society entire. My banishment not being related to a health issue, but simply because Columbia does not tolerate smokers. To fully rid the campus of smoking is to tell a smoker that they are not fully accepted as a proud member of this diverse society. It is telling me that not only do I have to be a bright and law-abiding individual, I must also walk outside the comfort of my community to smoke because Columbia has diagnosed my habit as an unacceptable flaw in my being.
The discussion of trifling health risks is indeed a red herring for those who want a campus ban. The health concern is not their true motive. It is simply then lashing out against smokers because they find the habit to be a bothersome blemish that they should not have to be around. Smoking in New York is illegal in or near areas of congregation such as public buildings and parks. Why should smoking be allowed on the walkways of the greatest city in the world, but not on the walkways of the greatest university in the world? What justifies the means to go even a step further and rid Morningside of smokers?
I propose we not zone areas for smokers to congregate, but instead to follow New York example. I propose that Columbia enforce the 20-foot policy for all buildings, and to designate smoking to only the red brick walkways of Morningside.
O’HALLORAN: Thank you very much. [Applause] Please state your name.
KATHARINE CELANTANO: Hello, my name is Katharine Celantano. I’m the president of a student group here, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and I’m going to read a statement on behalf of our entire group, and I’m proud to say that we have at least three of our other members here in addition to me.
“As Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, our goal is to approach drug policy issues in a sensible and thoughtful manner. Regardless of individual feelings toward drugs and drug users, we strive to approach policy with a levelheadedness such complex problems demand in order to achieve optimal results. As such, we oppose the proposed campus-wide smoking ban. We acknowledge that the current system is lacking, but our concern is that the proposed campus-wide ban is a knee-jerk reaction that does not address the needs of the community. As both smokers and nonsmokers, we recognize that smoke on campus can be unpleasant to some, and in extreme cases, detrimental to health. But a full campus ban is not the best solution to these serious concerns.
Out of the diversity of perspectives expressed by those in attendance at our recent student discussion among members of our group and non-members, emerged common ground. The current 20-foot consistent distance rule is both not enforced and often not followed, and thus it does not exist in practice. While we do not as an organization take a position on each of the following, we suggest a focus on debate of the following concrete proposals receiving most attention:
Thank you for the opportunity to engage in a respectful and robust policy discussion on this matter. And may I submit the written version of this.
O’HALLORAN: Thank you very much. [Applause] We will be compiling a transcript that will be made available publicly. Any other questions? Yes. Please state your name.
ADAM WEISS: Hi, everyone. My name is Adam Weiss. I’m a fourth-year student in the School of General Studies. So Columbia’s looking to ban smoking on campus. That’s great. Welcome to the future. The weather is great. I mean, the rest of the world has been moving on this tack for years, and we’re here. It’s taken quite a while. I’m glad to see the university is finally taking steps to support my health and well-being. Although I have to be honest, all I have to do is take a quick look at my student loan history to really understand that such a notion is just as ridiculous as a kind letter from Philip Morris reminding me to eat my vegetables would be.
Excessive student debt is just as much a danger to health as smoking ever was, and yet the university continues to dispense private student loans like candy. So sure, ban smoking, pat yourselves on the back, and call it a day for doing a good thing for the well-being of the community. Because honestly, as long as you continue to peddle debt like Philip Morris pushes tobacco, I can’t really see the motivation for this stretching much further beyond public relations and image management with a cynical dollop of empty support for well-being smeared on for good measure. Thank you.
O’HALLORAN: Thank you. We’re going to focus our conversation today on tobacco, although debt relief and those discussions are very important. They are. They are. But today is going to be on tobacco. But thank you very much, and your concerns are noted. Yes.
Anneliese ????: Hi. My name is Anneliese, and I have a couple of comments. One is, I don’t think anyone can question in this day and age that smoking has an effect on health, whether it is cancer, whether it’s on your asthma, whether it is on your immune system. It goes on and on. I don’t think that that’s any longer a question that we need to say we need more research to show that smoking is bad for us. We all know what it is. So I don’t think that that should be an argument on whether or not we should make a new policy. But in terms of your policy that we enacted last year, when you said that it was made to be respectful to the students, I don’t understand what “respectful” means. It sounds to me like you want to be respectful to students as long as they’re inside the building. But those who are nonsmokers, whenever they want to exit to the campus and enjoy the same campus that everybody else has the right to, then it’s no longer needed to be respectful to them. You know, it sounds to me like you’re saying, “Suck it up, you know, inhale the smoke outside. Go inside if you don’t like it.” That’s what “respectful” sounds like to me in that context. So I think that there should be a non-smoking policy all the way through because we should all have the right to enjoy it, and by making a non-smoking policy, it’s not telling everybody else that they should stop smoking or that there’s anything wrong with them being smokers; it’s just saying, “Don’t do it around everybody else. Just, you know, go find your own space, and don’t bother anybody else with it.”
O’HALLORAN: Thank you very much. [Applause] Yes.
JOHN MORRIS: Hi. My name is John Morris. I’m a Ph.D. candidate in history with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. I didn’t prepare a speech, but I have been attuned to and involved in some of these debates over the last probably decade involving some of the smoking bans that have seemingly popped up all over the world. And I’ve always come at it mostly from the angle of private property rights, and that really isn’t an issue here. I mean, Columbia obviously has the right to enact policies because it’s a private institution. Excuse me.
That being said, from a kind of wide-angle view, you can see how these bans over the past decade have become more restrictive, more overbearing, and more really unreasonable, to use your terminology. So I applaud the task force for their hard work and their passage of this 20-foot rule. I think it is very reasonable and it protects the rights of students, smokers and nonsmokers, as you’re entering buildings, as you’re exiting buildings. I understand there’s an issue with compliance, and I’ve also noticed, I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but over the past month or two, the large concrete ash trays that used to be sort of everywhere you went, I think there might be one or two on campus. I don’t know where they’ve gone. So that might be an issue that needs to be addressed. I understand the problem of litter on campus.
As for this new proposal, this is harsh language, but I think it’s paternalistic. I think it’s condescending. I think these points have already been made. And I think it will encourage disobedience. It’ll encourage more litter, and it’ll encourage civil disobedience for probably the next several years. And the main reason is because it’s incredibly unreasonable. I mean, you can point to the health risks of secondhand smoke, which are not necessarily medical fact, either. There’s a lot of debate in that scientific realm. However, even accepting that as truth, you cannot say that smoking in an outdoor space with plenty of ventilation causes any legitimate health risk. So that being said, I do not support this new proposal. I do support the 20-foot rule, and I think it was a good compromise, even coming from the angle that I’ve argued from for the past 10 years.
O’HALLORAN: Okay. Thank you very much. Yes.
SAMUEL SILVERSTEIN: Yes. My name is Sam Silverstein. I’m the former chairman of the Department of Physiology at the Medical Center and a member of the Executive Committee of the University Senate. I’m a physician. I took an oath when I graduated from medical school, the Declaration of Geneva. It said, “I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity.” I’ve done research all my life, fairly successfully. I will maintain the utmost respect for human life. Every commencement with Lee Goldman’s coming to Columbia we recite the Hippocratic Oath. It says, “I will continue with diligence to keep abreast of advances in medicine. I will follow that method of treatment which according to my ability and judgment I consider for the benefit of my patient, and abstain from whatever is harmful or mischievous.”
My friends, and I mean it, my friends, you’re the future of this country. We know, know with certainty, that most people who take up cigarette smoking and become addicted, because it is an addictive habit, do so between the ages of 18 and 24. The people who tell you they’re going to quit once the tensions of college go away forget. They may go to graduate school, or they may take jobs where there are lots of tensions. And so we have a massive public health problem where millions of people in this country are adversely affected every year. This is not an issue of liberty versus authority. This is a matter of public health. Let’s not obscure what is correct.
I went through this afternoon as many places as I could find on Google that have addressed this issue. I can’t find a single responsible authority who says we ought to just make this accessible to anybody who wants to. The mayor of the city has had the courage to ban smoking in restaurants and public parks. He’s the best public health advocate in the country.
If you look at what the literature says about this issue, it’s quite explicit. It says quite simply that the best solution is a ban. Columbia University is one of the great intellectual centers of this country. Why should we find ourselves temporizing about something that we know is unhealthy and seriously detrimental to our students and to life itself?
So I would ask you to think about which values you hold most dear. Is it how much you spend for health insurance? I hope not. Is it how much you value the freedom to kill yourself? I hope not. I hope what you really care about is life, extending life. I hope you care about your fellow students, and their lives. Because by smoking, their lives will be cut short by a decade or more. And if you haven’t experienced death from the diseases that smoking causes, I invite you to come with me to watch someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease trying to breathe, or a patient with cancer of the lungs dying at age 50, or as my father did at age 56.
This is not a reasonable issue for us to be discussing in this way. This is not liberty versus authority. This is a straightforward matter of whether you care about the health of your fellow human beings. As a physician, I could do nothing more productive than be here today and to support Mark’s comments and his resolution. The Senate can change its mind. You can change the minds of your fellow students, and it will be social pressure that ultimately continues to reduce smoking as it has on more than 350 campuses, including many of the state universities throughout this country. Look at the University of Michigan website for an exemplary, exemplary situation where they ban smoking throughout the university, including—for a Big Ten school!—at the University of Michigan football games. That’s quite a comment. And ask yourself about the University of Kentucky, a tobacco-growing state, where the political pressures on the economics of tobacco are enormous. It’s banned tobacco.
So I’m sorry to say that I don’t accept at all the libertarian view that this is a reasonable proposal to accept smoking on the campus. I think as a public health measure, we ought to ban it. Thank you.
O’HALLORAN: Thank you. [Applause] Next question. Any other questions, comments? Yes.
RON MAZOR: My name is Ron Mazor. I’m a University Senator from the Law School. This is a bad idea, quite simply. It cuts against the idea of the openness and tolerance that we ask Columbia University to truly embrace and value. We aren’t talking about actually banning smoking. We’re talking about an undue hardship on people who smoke on campus. That’s going to be the result. We already have, I think, 20 percent of our university smoking on campus for whatever reason. It’s legal. It’s not a banned habit. It’s not a criminal habit. It’s perfectly within their rights.
To ban smoking on campus is to discourage as much as possible outdoor smoking, and to encourage by the same token, indoor smoking. We already have indoor smoking in the residence halls, in the dorms, and so on and so forth. All we will do is make it harder for people to actually go ahead and be responsible about their own personal habits, which do carry some health risks, but which are even more accentuated if done in indoor areas.
At the same time, it’s not an enforceable policy. We’ve already heard many times that Public Safety does not want to become smoking police. And without any type of enforcement, people are not going to voluntarily stop smoking on campus. The speeding example is pretty apt because as anybody who drives knows, nobody follows those limits. They drive at the speed of traffic which is often five, ten miles faster than what’s posted.
At the end of the day what we’re going to have passed in the Senate, if this thing passes, will be either an unenforceable law or a measure which actually restricts members of our community in undesirable ways. It will be forcing professors and students to walk far distances, not 20 feet, but all the way down across blocks to get off campus just to smoke on the public street. It’s basically going to only result in lowering the respect of the Senate for having put together silly laws that cannot be enforced. Or if it is enforced, which is even worse, of making Columbia unwelcome for those who smoke, which is actually a sizeable portion of our student body and faculty and workers and administrators. And it should be noted that the Columbia Law School Senate has actually passed a resolution which opposes the notion of a full smoking ban. Thank you.
DANI FARRELL: [inaudible]
O’HALLORAN: Thank you very much. We appreciate your input. Other comments? Yes.
CELENTANO: Hello. Katharine Celentano again. I would like emphasize at this time I do not speak on behalf of the organization I’m affiliated with, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. I speak on behalf of myself, and within the membership of my organization some people would probably agree with what I’m about to say, and some would disagree. I am a student at the School of General Studies, major in neuroscience, concentration in economics. And first I just want to thank the administration for caring about student health. I genuinely believe, in terms of my interaction with the university, that that is genuine. I had the honor of working with administrators on overdose prevention policies, and so, yeah, I want to start there. I’m excited to work with you guys.
People often joke in the School of General Studies that all of us come to this school with a GS story, a reason why we’re a non-traditional student. And I’m 25. I’m an ex-smoker, a proud ex-smoker, and I’m glad I quit. I smoked from the age of 18 to about 20, and since then, I’ve had maybe like five cigarettes now and again. And to me this is not an issue of personal liberty. To me this is about focusing on the reasons why people smoke, and the different groups that are impacted by this and looking at the complexities of the health issues involved. And part of my GS story is why I came back here. I’m interested in addiction. I’m interested in public health, and it’s the field that I would like to go into. I spent two years—this is personal. I spent two years as a client in a residential psychiatric treatment facility for various mental health issues, and I saw a lot of addiction there and a lot of very troubling things. And I saw a lot of people coping with some difficult issues, sometimes with tobacco or other drugs or other maladaptive coping mechanisms. And that is what inspired me to go back to school—because I want to have a positive impact on those people.
I’m not saying that all smokers smoke for these reasons. But for me, at that time in my life, I felt very out of control. I was in a pretty scary situation. I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to live outside that type of facility, much less come to a school like this. And it was my maladaptive way of exerting control over what felt like a really out-of-control situation. And I do not say that is healthy. Smoking is not healthy. I don’t think that anyone can suggest that. But there are a lot of things that people do that are not healthy, and in order to empower people to overcome those things, we cannot use blunt force.
For myself personally, sometimes going around campus, you know, all of the free food. Sometimes I have food challenges. It can be very hard to be around. Briefly there was a break of time in between my time at this facility when I went to Swarthmore. And this is not a knock on Swarthmore. It’s the case at any college campus. But on my dorm there was alcohol, and there were other drugs there. And I don’t personally have an addiction environment, but coming from that environment, losing friends to overdose, seeing people struggling with child abuse and those maladaptive ways, it made it extremely difficult for me to be in those situations.
You can’t realistically completely get rid of alcohol. You can’t realistically get rid of poor food options. I am in support of policies that encourage people to make healthy choices. I look at this as a disabilities rights issue. And that includes people with asthma. We need to make sure that they have a safe space on this campus, and it includes people who are using smoking in different ways. For example, we have a large veteran population. I cannot speak on their behalf, but they’re dealing with a lot of trauma issues, and they may be maladaptively using smoking in that way.
There was a moment in my life where I was feeling really down, and I was standing next to a highway. And I had this thought: am I going to walk into the traffic? And that’s just where I was at in my life, and I was pretty close to doing that. And instead of doing that, I walked to a gas station and I bought a pack of cigarettes. And I smoked half a cigarette, decided it was disgusting, threw it out, and then called a supportive person. And I’m not suggesting that that was a positive way of dealing with it, but we need to talk to people and figure out why they are doing these things and address that. We have an international population. It’s dangerous to shut down things. Let me just look at my notes for a second. I’m losing my train of thought.
We are so blessed to be on a campus that has so much diversity. We are so blessed to have a program like General Studies. We’re so blessed to have all these different schools, all these different cultures. And whenever we just throw out this general ban, it shuts down the opportunity for us to learn from each other. And so I would be in support of something like the 20-foot ban. I think there are possible improvements that could even be made on that. Somebody in our organization brought up the concern that within a 20-foot ban you also want to make sure that there is always safe passage where people can deal with those things. I quit when I was at a place where I could quit. I had doctors telling me when I was dealing with more serious issues, and I would be thinking about quitting, they were like, “Look, you’ve got to deal with some more pressing things that are a threat to your health.” And, you know, I’ve worked in a pharmacy. I’ve seen people come in who are on, I’m not sure what the illness was, but something respiratory. They have a tank of oxygen and they’re asking me for a pack of cigarettes, and I sell it to them, and it absolutely breaks my heart.
But you’re not helping those people if you’re not being nuanced in your approach. And that is something we need to look at in an overall policy way that allows for some nuance. It’s something that needs to be addressed with their doctors. I’m so grateful for the resources here. And so I guess what I’m asking everyone to do is, I’m begging you to look at the complexities of this issue and think about health. I’m asking you to think about health and that is why I oppose the ban.
O’HALLORAN: Okay. Great. Thank you [Applause] I think this is the perspective that Mike’s group did this from, which is a public health issue, and the needs of everyone need to be balanced and coming up with an approach that understands the real needs of both smokers and nonsmokers, and secondhand smoke and the consequences of that. And then providing people with safe passage toward something that’s a health option really has been the holistic approach that has been taken by the Student Health Services, by the task force, and so thank you very much for your comments. Yes, additional comments?
McNEIL: I appreciate all the comments I’ve heard so far. One of the pieces that may be helpful to know about the work group process is we did look at many, many different options, recognizing that what may have been done at other institutions, may not necessarily be what’s appropriate for Columbia. We need to recognize what’s appropriate here.
That being said, there were certain issues like the designated areas, for example. We mapped the idea, and it was determined that that wasn’t appropriate for the Morningside campus of Columbia. One of the distance proposals was around a 50-foot rule, which would make us match the expectations or the policy at Teachers College. Now if you’ve spent any time at the Teachers College campus, you’ll realize that a 50-foot rule makes it a de facto smoke-free campus. We recognized that and so we took that seriously and said we’re not trying to hide anything here. And part of the concern with the 50-foot rule is that there are portions of the upper campus where you’re within 50 feet of another building by moving away from one.
And we tried very much to look at balance, and to say there are such a variety of people on the campus. The feedback for the work group was overwhelmingly in support of a smoke-free campus, but we felt that at the time the decision was made, that the right step was a more moderated step. It’s the same process that was used at CUMC, for example. They had an interim step. They didn’t go from nothing to a smoke-free property. We felt like that that seemed, again at the time that decision was being made, reasonable.
We’re revisiting that conversation today, and I will say that taking off the hat of the work group chair and just talking as Michael, the person who heads Alice!, which is the chief public health unit for students, I do think eventually a smoke-free, or better yet, a tobacco-free campus would be good for the health and well-being of our university community. We’re talking about a place restriction, not a behavior restriction. It’s the where, not the what. And we’re really coming at this from health and well-being. I am very honest about the fact that I actually appreciate smokers and having them in my life. They’re sometimes the most fun people. They are. They’re great, in part because they’re inherently risk-taking. They have great stories. I just can’t listen to the stories while they’re smoking. That’s the one thing. It’s a place thing. It’s not a what, it’s a where. Sorry, I felt the need to inject a slight bit of humor into the room.
You know, this is a long and drawn-out process, and this conversation is one that our society has been having for decades now. I’m not sure where it’s going to get us, but I think the honest dialogue we’re having here is an important step in figuring out what the right step is for Columbia now and to guide our discussions in the future.
O’HALLORAN: Yes. Please state your name.
ALFRED NEUGUT: My name is Alfred Neugut. I’m a medical oncologist and a cancer epidemiologist and the head of cancer prevention at the Medical Center. And it’s true CUMC is smoke-free, but it’s a medical center so I think it’s a little more appropriate than for the university. They don’t have weapons going around in the police station. We don’t have cigarettes going around in the Medical Center. We did have a McDonald’s there for awhile, though, so I can’t say that we’re totally risk-free.
To be honest, I’m a cynic and a libertarian to boot. And the truth is that there are many cancer-causing activities or risk activities that take place on the university campus. I probably don’t have to tell any of the students that. I mean, from a cancer risk point of view, we’d probably be better off banning sunbathing on campus from a skin cancer point of view. God forbid we should ban sunbathing. But in truth, from a cancer risk point of view it probably would be more effective than banning cigarette smoking in terms of secondhand lung cancer. I think that secondhand lung cancer is probably no risk at all or virtually no risk here at all. We could put up barriers on Broadway to keep people from jaywalking, and that would probably save more lives again than banning secondhand smoking here.
But the question is, what does tobacco represent in real terms? Does it really represent something that’s, shall we say, categorically different than other risk factors, than alcohol or than sunbathing, than other things that cause cancer or cause risk? And I think it really is a horse of a different color. Again, I’m not 100 percent sure it should be banned, but the reason I would ban it is, I don’t think impressionable children, and I’m sorry I’m old enough now to think of most of you as children, and to see the high school students who come here for visits and others just to see people smoking here. I mean, we don’t see smoking anymore in films or in television shows. It’s become a dirty habit, a socially reprehensible activity. And again, as the law student said earlier, it’s not illegal and people are allowed to do it in their own homes and I say more power to them. Some day they’ll create business for me and my colleagues, but the point is that it really should become a socially reprehensible activity and looked down on. And by allowing it to be seen in public as something which is done in a socially acceptable way, I think that’s really the negative of allowing tobacco on campus. We just shouldn’t see people smoking and going around and looking like they’re okay. The same way I don’t like seeing someone walking around with a brown paper bag and drinking Thunderbird. And then again it’s legal to do that thing. But it’s not socially nice, and tobacco is something that should be reprehensible, and we shouldn’t be seeing it among our children, among 20-year-olds and 24-year-olds on campus where they can learn. As Sam Silverstein said before, that’s the age at which people do become addicted, and I think to whatever degree we can, we should not allow it. If this were a place where everyone was 50 and older, I wouldn’t give a damn. But to have people who in their early twenties see smoking as a normal activity, or a quasi-normal activity, I think it is really to be deplored.
O’HALLORAN: Thank you very much. [Applause] Yes, in the back.
MICK McDONALD: Excuse me. I have a cold. But I’m Mick McDonald. I’m a second-year Ph.D. student in physics, and I do agree with the last speaker. I’m not a smoker, but I do see that there’s a big difference between a 20-foot and a campus ban and primarily in the message that it sends. That a campus ban seems to be making a public pronouncement that smoking is socially reprehensible. And I think one of the big arguments against a smoking ban has been, it’s been up a few times, that it’s not enforceable. I’m not a law student, but we do have speed limits, and even though some brought up the point that people always go five or ten miles over the speed limit, you know in the back of their mind that there is a chance that maybe you’ll get caught. And when you know there’s a speed limit, it gives you some guidance. It says, “Okay, I shouldn’t be going 100 miles an hour. And we also have in New York State a law against not wearing a seat belt, which you think is totally unenforceable. And if it’s unenforceable, why would you have that law? But it sends the message that you should be wearing a seat belt and you should have your kids wearing a seat belt and passengers in your car should wear a seat belt. So I don’t understand the main argument about it not being enforceable because if there’s even a small chance of it, knowing that maybe someday you could get caught, you’re less likely to follow that behavior. And I think even more important is just the message that it sends that it’s not a socially acceptable activity. And that’s all I have.
O’HALLORAN: Okay. Thank you very much. [Applause] Additional questions. Yes.
GREG FREYER: I’m Greg Freyer. I’m in the School of Public Health and I’m on the Medical School campus, where smoking has been banned on the whole campus for about a year, a year and a half now. And I think I agree with the last two speakers. It’s an issue of socially unacceptable behavior. If you look at what’s happened at the Medical School campus, you’re not allowed to smoke on the sidewalks outside the buildings. It’s not just a 20-foot ban. You’re supposed to be completely off campus. You do see the occasional smoker. You do see the occasional person who will stand around and try to find a little hidden spot and smoke. But by and large, it has eliminated smoking around the campus. And I realize people walk off a couple of blocks into the neighborhoods and they smoke, but I think that the message is pretty clear, and I think the issue of enforceability. It’s not enforceable. The security police don’t come around and issue tickets if you’re smoking, but there’s a peer pressure not to smoke. And I think it’s largely effective. So while the enforcement issue is tough, I think at the end of the day if it’s put in place, you’re going to see very few smokers on campus.
O’HALLORAN: Thank you very much. Yes. In the back.
ANOTHER VOICE: Yes, I just wanted to say that this: if this did pass, it’s not going to change my decision to smoke. I’m a smoker. I have been smoking for eight years. I also wanted to say that in the future, even if this was able to be enforced, which I think it possibly could be, the safe passage that a nonsmoker would want I think would be limited after that due to smokers gathering around exits. There’s very few exits to Morningside campus, and I think even if you cut the number of smokers in half that currently smoke on campus, they’re just going to stand right outside the gate because as you said before, Columbia University doesn’t have purview over those sidewalks. So I think what you’re going to create is just gigantic plumes of smoke in front of the exits. I mean, even if I decided to quit smoking, I would have to walk through that as well. I don’t think that over time that would go away or that people would cross Broadway to go smoke somewhere else.
O’HALLORAN: Okay. Tom will read a short notice from Sheila Garvey from HR.
TOM MATHEWSON: This is Tom Mathewson from the Senate staff, and I’ve been asked to read a short notice from HR. It’s Sheila Garvey, assistant vice president for labor relations. “I’m writing to insure that the Senate is aware that this proposal, [that is, the ban], involves a mandatory subject of union collective bargaining. If it is passed, I will need to notify the unions and be prepared to negotiate its impact. An example of the type of impact that would need to be discussed would be how union staff break times are affected by the need to leave the campus to smoke. The fact that the impact would need to be discussed with the unions does not necessarily mean that anything about the rule would have to be changed. However, it needs to be clear that these discussions could lead to proposals by the unions to make modifications to the rule that the university would have to consider.”
O’HALLORAN: Okay. Thank you very much.
BETTE GORDON: Hi. School of the Arts faculty, Bette Gordon. I’m actually speaking today as a parent of a student who’s a senior here, who’s been here for a number of years, and Ron Mazor spoke earlier about the dorms. I know we’re talking about public buildings, we’re talking about the buildings that we teach in, that we learn in, we go in and out, but what about the dorms? What about the 18-, 19-, 20-year-old students who if not allowed to step 20 feet outside the dorm in a relatively safe space have to go down to Riverside Park or Morningside Park? It’s nighttime. I don’t want my daughter wandering around, not that she smokes, but if she did, late at night in order to have a cigarette, I would rather have that space be somewhat closer to where she’s living. I think that’s important not only for all the students who smoke, but also for others. I know there’s a courtyard where there’s a problem. But I’m mostly concerned that what’s happening right now, I’ve been in the dorms a lot, students smoke anyway. They smoke inside. I don’t want any kid falling asleep with a cigarette, setting fire to a building. So at least we can have some peace of mind to know that they have to go smoke outside at least 20 feet away. Otherwise everybody is going to suffer. You talk about taboo, and socially reprehensible, but, you know, people are attracted to those things that are taboo. So if we don’t make a big deal about it I think and say that it’s 20 feet, you’re going to have fewer people trying to break a rule. It’s something very attractive when James Dean lit up a cigarette, and people are still smoking in movies and on various commercials. So it hasn’t really been eradicated yet.
But I do urge us to really think about what will happen to the people who live on the campus. Not just you who come in, teach your class and leave, but people who really live here for four years. What are they going to do and where are they going to be forced to go?
O’HALLORAN: Thank you very much. [Applause] Additional comments from those who haven’t said anything yet. Yes. Please identify yourself.
AKI TERASAKI: Hi, everyone. My name is Aki Terasaki. I’m the president of the Columbia College Student Council, and I’m speaking in that capacity today. We had our meeting last night with the full council and we adopted a resolution by a vote of 34 in favor, and one against, and one abstention. And I won’t bore you with most of the perambulatory causes, but it basically states that the proper signage and notification have just been implemented, and as a result of this, the policy has not been in place long enough to review the effects of the policy on the Columbia College community and the student body at large. “Whereas the frequent change in policy also provides a confusing message to the Columbia College community and whereas this confusion could undermine the current implementation of the policy, we, the Columbia College Student Council, have the resolve to support the current university smoking ban until the specified period of two years, as stated in the resolution of the Senate, has elapsed in order to provide a proper assessment of the policy and the implications of its implementation.”
O’HALLORAN: Okay. Thank you very much. Additional comments. Go ahead.
CELENTANO. Hi. I again am not speaking in my capacity as associated with the Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. I just wanted to respond to two things from a few speakers who spoke after me. I actually agree on some of those points. I think that whatever we do, we need to be extremely careful not to glorify tobacco because this is the age of onset of addiction. This is the age that people are exposed to stresses and may be making those unhealthy choices to deal with them in less than wonderful ways. And I would say the same for many other drugs, including alcohol. I think we have a problem in our culture in varying degrees of different substances of glorification. So I think that can be taken into account.
Our traffic regulation is great and it’s been extremely effective, but I don’t think that it’s an apt comparison because it is in place to make driving safer. We have not banned driving. And actually, interestingly, a few weeks ago statistics came out that said that traffic fatalities are dramatically down, which is an interesting contrast because for the first time I think in our country’s history overdose deaths now surpass traffic fatalities We need to not glorify smoking or other destructive drug use. I’m not exactly sure how to articulate it, but we need to make sure that we are not encouraging a hatred of individuals in too moral a way, and that we’re talking in terms of health. Because there are real consequences of that.
For, in the work that I do, because I primarily work on addiction, at least once a month somebody says to me, if I’m talking about, let’s cure addiction, someone will say to me, “Well, you know, addicts cure themselves. They overdose.” And that is a common thing that I hear, and it’s something I hear from people who know why I got involved, so I’m assuming that number is higher than what I’m actually experiencing. And if you look at some of the statements that were made after Amy Winehouse died, I had a friend say to me, “She offered nothing to the world. I can’t pretend to care. May her corpse quickly rot, as the last thing the world needs is more zombies.” And people have these views about people who are using substances in an unhealthy way. And I think that sometimes, whether we realize it or not, plays into the way that we’re talking about tobacco use. Because I do think that there is a hatred of smokers. My last anecdote: when I was smoking—and I think a lot of smokers are not respectful this way, and they should be, I always tried to be very respectful of not smoking around people who didn’t want it. And I was standing outside somewhere in an area where I was allowed to smoke, and a woman came by with a baby in a stroller, and I walked away. And as I was walking away, this woman gave me the dirtiest look, and I was walking away from her child. And I was nowhere near her. I was tens of feet away from her child.
Yeah, so there’s fatal consequences to misaligning our messaging and how we’re looking at these things.
O’HALLORAN: Right. Okay. Thank you very much. Yes.
ANOTHER VOICE: I’d like to make one more comment before—I’ve got to take off here pretty soon, but in light of what’s been said. I do think it’s important to contextualize this. I think that in an ideal world at Columbia University, as one of the premier universities in the world, it might be a good idea to implement a policy like this. But we’re not in an ideal world. And, for example, we don’t have the right anymore as a private institution to have something like smokers’ lounges inside that are totally sealed off. Or, for example, allow smoking in rooms where two roommates agree. You can’t smoke in bars or restaurants in this city anymore, where there could be alternative safe spaces. Okay? So the city government has taken that right out of our hands. So I don’t see this as any sort of reasonable measure. And I again endorse the 20-foot rule.
O’HALLORAN: Okay. Thank you very much. Okay.
JOSE ROBLEDO: Jose Robledo, General Studies. The question I have for the two gentlemen up there is, from my understanding, I spoke to some of my friends at the Medical Center, and they explained there was roughly about an eight-month rollout up at the Medical Center before they went smoke-free, and the fact that it was community enforced I think has already been up here. Here at Morningside, honestly, the fact that we’re talking about it is the reason why I know that this is being up brought up again, the fact that we’re looking at smoke-free. And the fact that I sit on [the Senate] External Relations [Committee], I also know that External Relations has purview over the current smoking policy that we’re supposed to be rolling out.
Now the question is, too: When was the rollout actually effective, what was the termination of the rollout date, and when was any of this information supposed to be given to a body in the Senate to evaluate what the effectiveness of the rollout was? In other words, not just the signage, but e-mails, campaigns from Alice!, the Columbia Psychological Services and everyone else who was involved in the Medical Center, why did I not see them involved down here?
McNEIL: So the finalization of the language actually did not happen until the early part of the summer and getting it into the respective documents, etc., to make sure that it was in place by the start of the fall term. Once that was completed and during that completion process, the e-mails were drafted, etc., and provided to the respective areas of the university who have the responsibility for dissemination. That all happened around the beginning of this semester.
In terms of the internal decisions of various groups on campus, in terms of when to send that out, that’s outside the purview of the work group. The language was provided, the suggestions, all of that was provided and put forth and put in the hands of those who have that responsibility.
In terms of the monitoring and the follow-up, there is a less formal process currently outlined from the work group’s perspective – I cannot speak for the Senate – in terms of what we will do to monitor over time. Certainly we’re going to look at things. For example, on many occasions I’ve been asked for the data on student smoking rates. We collect that data periodically. We have looked at it over time. But that kind of information that was part of the original process, there is a plan in place to capture that again in the future at the request of the Senate so that they can review that and other forms of data. In addition, it is likely that additional feedback forums would be scheduled. But again, that would be a Senate decision.
The specific piece about Columbia Health, Alice!, Psychological Services, etc., first and foremost we are making sure that the cessation services that are available and mentioned on the signage remain robust and accessible to students. And that is solidly in place. Even with the city cutting back on funding for cessation, which was a portion of how we received our resources, we’ve been able to make sure that we’re going to be able to continue to offer that. And that service is actually offered by the medical services unit.
In terms of messaging from Alice!, that’s something that we have considered. We, and again I can only speak on behalf of my department here, but we believe that a tobacco-free campus would ultimately be in the best interests of the university and the constituents therein. The process about how that might come about is one that the entire institution must decide. So Alice! has not taken a formal outright step in terms of the communication. We have provided the background support around signage, language. Even for myself being willing to collect ongoing feedback, when somebody says a sign is not in the right place or what have you, we’re doing that because there isn’t a formal mechanism for that piece to continue since the work group’s process ended. But we believe that we want to continue to support the dialogue around this issue in the interest of public health at Columbia.
ROBLEDO: A point of information on that, though. The resolution passed in December of last year, the 20-foot constraint, and you’re saying that the verbiage and the initiative to roll that out was just rolled out the beginning of this semester?
McNEIL: All the pieces were completed by the start of this semester. At any institution, and really in any organization, the change of a policy doesn’t happen overnight, and the dissemination of that information also doesn’t happen nearly as quickly as some would hope or want or desire. With the smoking piece, because of the many levels that we have to look at, the city versus the university property, what does the state law say, are there any pending changes? Part of why we took a look at this issue to begin with is that we knew the state law was about to change, but it had not yet gone into effect. In fact, it was on the governor’s desk for signature when we made the decision that everything tells us he’s going to sign it, let’s start getting our process in place. And we were dealing with a move to one piece of language that actually had replaced multiple documents in multiple places. It wasn’t a quick and easy process. It wasn’t just, It’s 20 feet and here you go. There were a lot of details that had to be worked out by a couple of volunteers, because the task force or tobacco work group that had led up to the recommendation to the Senate, that was its process. It was to do that work. There wasn’t actually a group charged with implementation. There were a few of us who said this is the action of the Senate, we support that, and we’re going to take the steps, even if they’re slow, to make that happen.
ROBLEDO: Then are we talking about the 20-foot rule today or are we talking about the ban? Because what I’ve heard a lot of people talk about is an outright ban, and not the 20-foot rule. So I actually want to get a clarification on that.
O’HALLORAN: Right. Okay. So what he was just stating about the rollout was with regard to the policy that was enacted by the Senate and that has been officially rolled out, implemented through policy, and is now being, through signage and communication, enforced, and that’s the 20-foot rule. That is what we’re speaking about. What is being proposed is that even though we have just now implemented that, there is a move to immediately go to a full ban. And that is what people are concerned about. Yes.
MAZOR: This is a question for Mark Cohen. Having heard that two student councils representing about 6,000 students support the current proposal, do you still feel that the 20-foot ban is supported only by a minority of smokers? And if not, how does that affect your plan about your current policy?
COHEN: This is a very large institution, and students make up a part of that, but only a part of that. You and I have talked about this at some length. I think that students are an important part of the community, but not the center of the universe in that regard. I thought that based on the task force survey that took place about two years ago that some 16 percent of students smoked. I think that Michael tells me the number might be as little as seven. But that notwithstanding, to really come at your question—I’m standing because I couldn’t see you from the podium—when I was young and I was a student here, I smoked. And I can pretty much say with accuracy that I would have resented the hell out of anything, anyone that attempted to interfere in whatever I chose to do. I’m old, I’m not old, but I’m much older. I quit smoking a long time ago, and I have a very different view. The university community is a very diverse community, it doesn’t revolve around students as the sun, the moon and the stars, and if properly governed, it reflects the greater good of the largest number. So I’m listening very objectively to the student view, I don’t reject it out of hand, but you in turn also have to reflect on the fact that you don’t have the only voice in the room, and that there is every reason to believe that a significant majority of this community do not agree with you. We’re not taking a vote today, and that will take place at some other time. But just to clarify though something that Sharyn said, this is being contemplated if enacted to take place sometime next year, not immediately. Because as we know, this is something that can’t be enacted overnight just because we say so.
DAVID HECHT: My name is David Hecht. I’m a student at the Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning. I’m on the program council there, but I’m speaking as an individual. I’d just like to respond to Professor Cohen’s remarks. I think perhaps it’s been pointed out, but we do face the tyranny of the majority in his arguments, and I think that the Senate’s role is to consider the impacts on minorities as well. I’m a sometimes smoker. I happen to be in the extreme minority that can quit when I want to. Perhaps the fact that I smoke again doesn’t mean that. But I do have friends within the school who are addicted cigarette smokers, but as such, I think that that health problem constitutes a facet of their lives that, as I think has been pointed out, merits attention from a health standpoint and support, but I think that the impact on their lives, particularly I suppose in our special situation where our school is the only school in which the lights are on 24 hours a day. We work extraordinary hours. We have a workload that I’m sure is matched by other schools, but we are consistently on campus, stressed out, working around the clock. And it’s a regular feature of the campus over there that people are outside, usually 20 feet away, smoking, socializing, having breaks from what constitutes a pretty arduous schedule, and I think that if you were to take a sample of that particular community, you might find that the numbers are flipped, and if a majority of people don’t smoke, a majority probably support the – and I’m not saying this from any data collection, just from an impression – that people respect the fact that a great number of students, especially in that profession, have this sort of way of coping with the tensions and whatever we’ve heard before. But to take that away from them and to force them to move great distances in order to do so, would constitute a pretty significant burden on them that, I think at least from my impressions, would not make a significant impact on the rates of smoking in the school. And I think it’s a dangerous thing to consider that just because a majority of people are contemplating, or support a certain measure, that then certain minorities would have to face undue burdens that—you know, four in the morning might not be impacting a great many people on campus.
O’HALLORAN: Okay. So thank you very much. Yes, in the back.
PHILIP GENTY: Philip Genty. I’m on the Senate and the law faculty, and all I’ll say at this gathering is, In terms of the community, and who’s the center of the universe, I can’t speak to that, but there are a number of non-faculty, non-student employees of this university who really aren’t represented in this body who are affected and would be affected by this policy, and I think we should also keep that in mind.
O’HALLORAN: Okay. Thank you very much. Additional questions. Yes.
ANOTHER VOICE: To address Senator Cohen’s remark that students are not the sun, the moon, and the stars, I would agree, and I would say that there are a number of diverse representatives or diverse pieces of the community that need to be considered. However, if you were to weigh the amount of time that students spend on this campus, specifically undergraduates, within the defined area, and you were to compare that to the number of faculty and other pieces of the community that are here from nine to five, I think that you would find that the opinions of the majority may be switched in that sense. So I would urge the Senate to consider the fact that the undergraduate students are the only ones who live on campus and thus would be most affected by this policy, especially during the nighttime.
O’HALLORAN: Yes. Thank you. Yes. Go ahead.
DANIELLE FARRELL: [inaudible]
O’HALLORAN: So this is a Senate policy. It would be members of the University Senate, representatives from student body, as well as faculty, tenured, nontenured, there are administrators, and the staff as well.
FARRELL: What percentage of those people are smokers versus nonsmokers?
O’HALLORAN: I could not tell you. I have not taken a straw vote, but I do not believe a majority are smokers.
O’HALLORAN: Not necessarily. Okay. Go ahead.
MATHEWSON: Could I just add from the Senate staff point of view that I’m guessing, Ms. Farrell, that you would be in our administrative staff constituency, and that the senator representing your constituency is Paula Goodman, who’s in the room now, I think. Paula, are you still here? She left, but she would be someone for you to contact and talk to about how to vote on this issue.
FARRELL: Is there any way to get an accurate number of smokers versus non-smokers in Columbia College?
O’HALLORAN: Oh, Mike does those surveys.
McNEIL: The surveys that Alice! has and conducts on behalf of Columbia Health just capture the student population. I’m just telling you the numbers I have. I think we all count in very many ways. How many have been counted in terms of smokers versus nonsmokers, that’s a different issue. There certainly are some mechanisms at play that I will absolutely investigate and I’ll talk with our colleagues in HR to see if they have access to information. It’s not a standard question, and to the best of my working knowledge, there’s not a health survey or assessment that’s conducted with just the employees of the university. But I will check on that. I have a meeting also with the Office of Work/Life tomorrow, not about this topic, but I’ll put it on the agenda to see if they’re aware of any data that speak specifically to the employee numbers.
O’HALLORAN: Yes. In the back.
ANDREW WEISMAN: Hi. I’m Andrew Weisman. I’m a Ph.D. student in applied physics here. I just wanted to comment on a few things that I’ve heard at this meeting so far that I respectfully disagree with. So a few quick points. First of all, I don’t think the 20-foot ban is good enough because, and I think largely because people smoke while walking, and there are pathways everywhere on this campus, and I feel like it affects even more people who have to walk through plumes of smoke than it does people who have to walk by people smoking right outside buildings. And so I don’t think it’s fair if someone has asthma for example, if they’re just walking to class, to be subjected to someone’s smoke right in front of them, someone else walking to class.
Second point. For those who make the argument there’s no proof, no proof for or against secondhand smoking, I think that argument goes both ways, and I just think we need to remember that people were not smoking long before people started smoking. So why would we use this no-proof argument for either side?
Third. A couple of people have mentioned that New York City and the rest of the world haven’t banned smoking. Certainly it’s legal, but I think Columbia is smaller, and that’s one of the reasons that we can implement this change. And we’re also more educated than the general body.
Two more points, I don’t think that walking a few blocks away means getting stabbed in Riverside Park or anything like that. You know, we can safely walk across the street or outside of whatever range there is without having to worry about public safety issues. If there are issues, there are security measures that could be implemented, but I think the chances of walking to an unsafe area and getting your life shortened, are smaller than the chances of dying early because of smoking.
And last, I understand people have said that this 20-foot ban is supposed to be implemented for two years and then we’ll try it out. But after two years expire all we’re going to really learn is not any change in the public health aspect, you’re just going to gauge people’s reactions to this, and I think that it would be wiser to make this implementation now because in two years it’s still going to be bad. Secondhand smoke, people are still going to have to be subjected to it. We’re still going to be subject to the same issues that we’re discussing today. Thanks.
O’HALLORAN: Thank you very much. Additional comments, questions. Anybody who hasn’t spoken yet? Okay. I’ll start down here.
ANOTHER VOICE: I’m a little confused as to why people keep saying that it’s an unreasonable policy because it cannot be enforced. Since clearly we’re not going to be the first ones to make it or enforce it, other schools have already been doing this. And even those who say that it might encourage disobedience, if it really does encourage disobedience in our student population, then we need to start questioning something other than the smoking policy.
O’HALLORAN: Thank you very much. Additional questions, comments. You had one.
AVANESSIANS: I was going to say that I think it’s quite easy for the nonsmoker to simply tell the smoker to leave campus and go do your smoking somewhere else without taking consideration for that smoker. I do have many friends who do not smoke at the school, and I have actually interviewed random people in the campus and I thought you would want to hear a just a two-minute interview. I’ve been smoking for about a year, a year or two years, and I’m an asthmatic myself so you could put your judgments on me or what not. I also did power lifting for five years so I’m a little health-conscious. But I did interview someone who actually turned out to be an asthmatic, and I thought you’d want to hear what an asthmatic had to say regarding this whole matter. Let me unlock my phone and play it. Can you hear it? Can you hear it?
O’HALLORAN: Thank you.
AVANESSIANS: Anyway, whoops. I know you said that students aren’t the sun or moon or the movements of the galaxies or what not, but it is important though that to realize that Columbia students are the future, and from asking a lot of Columbia students what they think, all of whom are nonsmokers that I know, and some of whom I don’t even hang out with often, they do feel that smokers should be allowed to smoke. But at the same time that it should be away from the buildings so people can experience that feature because you cannot smoke in New York City 20 feet from a building. If you’re at a bar and you want to smoke, you have to go outside, way outside, if not across the street sometimes. And I think that at least at first enforcing the 20-foot policy, let nonsmokers here experience that, experience walking in and out of buildings, in and out of campus without smoke being around them. Because even me being a smoker, I see people smoking on the benches of Butler, and that’s a huge problem for me. Even though I’m a smoker, no one likes secondhand smoke. It’s unfiltered tobacco in your face. When you walk out of Butler, you just have clouds of smoke because people are congregating there. As I said before, motionless congregation, and that’s the problem. If you keep people walking, if you keep them moving, and you could obviously say that campus walkways are not nearly populated as the city walkways and there’s many more paths that it’s not, let’s say, a chimney sitting next to you. You could think about it as a locomotive going by, a chimney but moving. So it’s not there when you’re walking past or through or around. So I think that, it being enforced, and people experiencing that first, should be the main thing, and then taking it a step further.
O’HALLORAN: Okay. Thank you very much. Any additional comments or questions. Yes, Jose.
ROBLEDO: My question is, Why are we working on the assumption that enforcement has to be done by someone else? I’m assuming that people have been considering public safety or something along those lines. Why do we need a rule to tell us something that we could do ourselves? I think other people already mentioned it. I think most of the people I walked up to, AND said, “Hey, do you mind moving away from the door?”, they take their cigarette and they move away from the door. I’m asking for one of the other planets and stars that revolves around this universe. The public safety officers, who I’m not going to talk about, were the ones who told me about this, but they passed this concern. They said, “Look, we’re not police officers. We can’t put you in handcuffs if you’re smoking, because it’s not illegal.” So if you tap someone on the shoulder and you tell them, “Hey, can you please put out your cigarette? This campus is smoke-free,” and they basically tell you to f off, then you walk away and you grab a public safety officer. The public safety officer, the most he can do is walk up to that person and ask him for an ID card, and if that person is a CUID holder, that person has as much right to be on this campus as anyone else. Public Safety does not do discipline. Public Safety does the other stuff that that we’d like for them to keep doing. Like our laptops, make sure that our buildings are safe. They have to refer somebody to a dean because deans do discipline for smoking. The burden that right now I think we should all carry is basically to ask people to move away from the door when they’re smoking. We’re passing off to someone else. And I’m asking that question: Why?
O’HALLORAN: Thank you very much. Any additional last questions, comments. Okay, one last quick one and then we’ll close this down.
CELENTANO: I’m not necessarily saying that these are be-all-end-all arguments, but I just wanted to throw out there especially in response to the education comment. Let us keep in mind that disproportionately people of lower socioeconomic status and also the mentally ill smoke at higher rates. And I would like to echo the concern about pushing students off into more dangerous areas. This is New York City. We talk about those specificities of this campus, that’s part of it. Also just a thought: If we’re pushing people off campus, do we have a responsibility to Morningside Heights that we’re now pushing this health problem onto them? And I would like to say that I think that it should be quite clear that this is not something that is just supported by smokers. I think that’s quite factual, and even as a former smoker I hate secondhand smoke. I don’t want to walk through it. And given that we have yet to fully realize this 20-foot ban, if we could really make that work so that people did have safe passage on this campus, the only remaining argument that I can see is this idea of creating a stigma, which I see as problematic. And in response to what Jose said, in our discussions with Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, there has been support for more active grassroots [efforts] from students doing the positive peer pressure thing in a way that hasn’t been done before. And another thing that wasn’t as popular but was discussed is the possibility of fines. And I’m not sure whether I support that or not, but I mean, there’s a lot of options we can look at beyond a ban.
O'HALLORAN: Thank you very much. I think we’re going to close down for now. One more quick. Just very quick.
WEISMAN: In my opinion, just to respond to what Jose said, I don’t think the point is who’s enforcing it. I feel like the point is that when a rule is in place, a rule is in place, and as someone already said, regardless of how it’s enforced there’s going to be pressure on those people to follow the rule. And also not everyone is going to speak up for themselves or how they feel. There are plenty of shy people here, and they might feel some way but not be willing to speak up to a smoker. That’s all I’ve got to say.
O’HALLORAN: Okay. Thank you very much. And I would like to thank everyone for your comments and input and for participating in this really important discussion about the public health of the Columbia community. Thank you very much and goodnight.
END OF SESSSION