It’s been over four years since the University System of Georgia banned smoking on all college campuses under their control. Enough time has passed for a clear look at what effects, if any, the ban has had.
The reality is simple: many people still smoke on campus.
While on-campus resources are available to help students quit, the ban has proven ineffectual at keeping tobacco off campus and shows a lack of understanding of what does and does not influence behavior.
The USG Policy Manual is fairly straightforward, stating that, “the use of all forms of Tobacco Products on USG Properties is expressly prohibited.”It goes on to define USG properties as, “property owned, leased, rented, in the possession of or in any way used by the USG or its affiliates, including all areas indoors and outdoors, buildings, and parking lots.” This can result in smokers having to travel a mile or more to escape University of Georgia property, something which many busy students are unlikely to do.
Smokers on campus have to choose between quitting or breaking the rules. According to research, many people choose the former. A systematic review by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services in 2010 reported 11 studies found smoke-free laws and policies in workplaces showed an increase of 6.4 percent in workers who quit smoking.
Another review of these studies done by the Cochrane Library is more skeptical, with substantial criticism of the studies’ methodology. For example, many of the studies were done in prisons and did not show any changes in smoking behavior, while the studies done in hospitals showed an increase in quitting attempts; most notably among staff, with patients attempting to quit to a lesser degree.
While it’s apparent that more robust studies are needed, an inescapable logical point is banning smoking on campus doesn’t make us unhealthier. But it does less than nothing if no one is following it.
Outside the realm of research, people still smoke on campus because there’s no reason not to. When the policy first took effect, the UGA Police Department and the UGA Office of Student Conduct told the Red & Black that they will not be enforcing the policy. They will take complaints though, so that’s nice. But the complainant would need to know the offenders name, so they can essentially only tell on someone they know.
Then vice president of public affairs at UGA Tom Jackson clarified in an interview that the goal was to help those on campus quit smoking rather than of punishing those who do. It’s a nice thought, but one which loses all meaning when you normally smoke a pack a day and only have a 30-minute break between two midterms and you’ve had like four Monsters since 10 p.m. the night before. At that point, the only deterrent that could work would be the threat of arrest, and even that is questionable.
In its attempt to discourage bad behavior, the USG have removed many incentives for proper behavior. A 2017 study done by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, found that 64 percent of smokers who habitually throw their cigarette butts on the ground do so only when a designated receptacle was not available. Similarly, the combination of a lack of designated areas for smoking and the ban’s non-enforcement has, in effect, made the campus no different than the rest of Athens. If anything, the lack of cigarette butt receptacles on campus provides more litter that could have been prevented.
Based on my experience as someone who periodically smokes on campus, these unofficial “smoking areas” have done a decent job of designating themselves, with smokers naturally congregating away from building entrances and busy walkways out of courtesy. It could be much better though. If there were designated smoking areas maybe with partitions to deflect second-hand smoke like they have in Tokyo, people would go there. It’s also much easier to enforce “you can’t smoke here, go over there” than “You can’t smoke at all.”
UGA has plenty of resources to help people quit smoking, and those have proven to be effective. But no one’s going to quit smoking because some Board of Regents in Atlanta told them to; they have to want to quit. It’s disingenuous to create policies that ignore this part of human nature.