By Christie Young, News Correspondent
Sanae was outraged when she first heard that Northeastern University was considering implementing a smoke-free policy.
“It takes away my freedom,” the sophomore mechanical engineering major and frequent smoker, said. “I felt it was ridiculous that Northeastern felt compelled to push its morals on its students.”
Northeastern’s new smoke-free policy began at the start of the current fall semester, a move that has been in consideration since February. The adoption of this policy went hand-in-hand with a new smoking cessation program called Ready to Quit! It was not until May that the University decided to go through with the smoke-free policy.
“If we’re truly going to be an educational institution,” said Captain Albert J. Sweeney, associate director of Northeastern’s Public Safety Division, “then we should be pushing health initiatives that decrease exposure to secondhand smoke.”
“There was a very strong movement in the country among colleges and universities to consider the banning of smoking on campuses,” said John Auerbach, Distinguished Professor of Practice and director of the Institute on Urban Health Research. “The consideration of [adopting] this policy was part of a national trend.”
In the past five years, the number of campuses with smoke-free policies has more than tripled, from about 400 to 1,400, according to Auerbach. Before the adoption of the smoke-free policy, Northeastern did not allow smoking inside buildings or within 15 feet of university buildings. It was common to see groups of students smoking on campus, particularly around Snell Library and Speare Commons.
So is it working?
“There’s a lot less people smoking outside of Snell now,” said Malhar Teli, a third-year video game design and digital art major. “They all go to Huntington now.”
Public streets like Huntington Avenue, Forsyth Street and Columbus Avenue are not property of the university, so the smoke-free policy does not apply there. While there are no designated smoking areas, students do not have to go too far in order to smoke when they want.
“It’s effective for what it’s trying to do,” Teli said. His roommate was a frequent smoker but is now trying to quit due to the hassle of not being able to conveniently smoke on campus.
Sanae has also had a similar experience. “Last year, I’d always smoke between classes, when I got Rebecca’s, or if I was at the library for an hour,” she said. “I’m smoking less so I guess it’s working, but I’d rather personally choose to quit smoking.”
The idea was born in the Student Government Association (SGA) a few years ago. “When I was a freshman in SGA I started looking into it and doing some research on it,” said Summer Nagy, a third-year psychology major and vice president of the SGA. Nagy was one of three students on the committee that made the decision about adopting the policy.
“We started working on it through the SGA and realized it was way bigger than us. There were other student groups working on it so we all kind of came together and realized there was enough push,” Nagy said. “That was also the time that the administration was interested, so President Aoun asked the dean of Bouvé to create a committee.”
Other Boston schools with smoke-free policies include the Boston University medical campuses, Harvard University medical campuses and Wentworth Institute of Technology.
“The main pros were the health benefits and promoting a healthy lifestyle,” Nagy said. “Promoting smoking cessation was also key.”
Ready to Quit!, Northeastern’s smoking cessation program, encourages students to quit by offering nicotine replacement products and encouragement. Students going through the program can expect text messages to support a tobacco-free lifestyle as well as weekly phone calls and meetings with a nurse.
The committee was concerned with issues like enforcement. The solution was to have students be on the lookout for those smoking in smoke-free zones.
“We have a system where people can send emails to a dedicated site indicating whether they’re observing people who are not following the policy,” Auerbach said. “We’ve received very few, maybe five or six a week, and many of those emails are reporting the same incident. It’s a good sign.”
Captain Sweeney was also pleasantly surprised by how well the policy has been received. “This generation, after 25 years of education around the evils of nicotine is much more cooperative,” he said. If an NUPD officer was to catch someone smoking in an area where it was not allowed, they would simply be sent off with a warning. “If someone were to be disrespectful or disobedient to an officer, they would get sent to OSCCR [Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution],” he said. “Fortunately, we have not had any of these incidents.”
The policy is mostly reliant on the idea that there will be a change in the culture and that students will do the right thing and obey it. So far, it seems students are compliant. The large groups of smokers outside of Snell have been replaced with signs calling passerby’s attention to the change in policy.
“Snell definitely smells better,” said Sanae. “It was ridiculous walking through a cloud of pollution.”