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September 18, 2014

Letter: SSDP opposes smoke-free NU

The law students who comprise our chapter oppose a completely smoke-free policy, and urge Northeastern decision-makers to consider alternative methods, such as designating smoking areas, providing cessation support and reducing the harms associated with smoking in the university community.

Northeastern has a demonstrated commitment to public health, and the university must continue to strive to prevent addiction and encourage healthy lifestyle choices throughout our community. We recognize the undeniable link between smoking and chronic diseases and support efforts to educate our students about the hazards of smoking cigarettes. To reduce the prevalence of students who smoke, the university should ensure that nicotine patches and gum are available for free at University Health and Counseling Services and increase the availability of cessation support groups for students trying to quit smoking. Health promotion, along with smoking prevention campaigns, would be more effective in reducing tobacco use than a smoke-free campus policy.

If the university pursues a change regarding outdoor smoking on campus, a reasonable compromise must include establishing designated smoking areas as well as incentives for smoking cessation. Designated smoking areas — with ashtrays installed away from building entrances — would allow community members unable or unwilling to quit smoking tobacco to have a number of safe, reasonably convenient places to smoke on campus, while also respecting those community members who wish to avoid contact with tobacco products. Regardless of any such policy change, Northeastern should strengthen its preventative health education programs regarding tobacco and its support for smoking cessation efforts.

Setting aside the worthwhile goal of discouraging smoking, two facts remain: smoking cigarettes outdoors is legal in Massachusetts for those over 18, and nicotine is highly addictive. Those in the Northeastern community who are least able to quit smoking will bear the brunt of a smoke-free policy and its enforcement. We do not favor a policy which would ostracize and stigmatize members of our community who are addicted to tobacco, a legal — though perhaps unpopular — substance.

History demonstrates that prohibition simply does not succeed in eliminating a substance, but rather drives it to the margins and stigmatizes its continued use. We urge the committee to conserve the resources of Northeastern personnel that would necessarily be expended in enforcing a smoke-free policy on our open, urban campus. Punishing smokers is also unlikely to successfully reduce smoking in our community.

Such enforcement would burden not only smokers but also the university’s Public Safety Division and administration, diverting their attention from current duties and more important security matters. Our chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy strongly opposes the increased burden on university resources that would result from a campus-wide smoking ban.

We hope that the committee will think critically about the most effective smoking policies to facilitate health and well-being in our community. We remain available to discuss any of the issues raised herein.

-Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Northeastern University School of Law.

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