Widgets Magazine


Letter to Stanford University on Tobacco Use Policies

“In my judgment it is the duty of the University authorities to send out into the world students with good physical health as well as with good mental attainments, in order that they may successfully fight the battle of life.” – Mrs. Jane Stanford’s address to the Stanford University Board of Trustees, Oct. 3, 1902, amending the Founding Grant of Stanford University

Duties are to be taken seriously. Mrs. Stanford entrusted Stanford University authorities with the duty of ensuring the “good physical health” of its students. Yet Provost John W. Etchemendy, with the apparent tacit approval of President John L. Hennessey, continues to violate this duty through the Provost’s long-standing opposition to Stanford becoming a smoke-free, let alone tobacco-free, campus – thereby assuring that Stanford students (and the entire Stanford community) will continue to be exposed to the deadly effects of tobacco smoke.

Becoming aware of this unsafe health condition at Stanford, the State of California Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee (TEROC) has sent a strongly worded Sept. 10, 2015 letter to Provost Etchemendy regarding Stanford’s failure to become a tobacco-free campus, stating, “Stanford’s current policy is incomplete and continues to expose the University’s population to the harms of tobacco use.”

So, what is “incomplete” and “harmful” about Stanford’s current policy? It’s the extensive degree of smoking that is still allowed on the campus. Under Stanford’s campus smoking policy, smoking is generally permitted in all its outdoor areas, unless otherwise posted or during organized events, with smoking required to be least 30 feet away from doorways, open windows, covered walkways and ventilation systems. The only exceptions are that smoking is entirely banned on the campuses of the Stanford School of Medicine, the Stanford Hospital & Clinics (now Stanford Health Care) and the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, and smoking is only allowed at three designated areas on the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory grounds.

Thankfully, some in authority within the Stanford community are taking seriously their duty for ensuring the “good physical health” of students. Sadly, others are not.

In forsaking the “duty” entrusted to him by Mrs. Stanford, Provost Etchemendy has consistently thwarted all student and faculty proposals to end tobacco use on campus. Most recently, at a March 5, 2015 Stanford Faculty Senate meeting, a faculty proposal to make Stanford a smoke-free campus was derailed and referred to committee for study after Provost Etchemendy argued that there is no evidence that outdoor smoking has had a negative effect on health on campus. In the detailed minutes from this Faculty Senate meeting, Provost Etchemendy cited incredibly low campus smoking rate statistics that were disputed by fellow faculty members and he made the presumptuous claim, “The way I see it, we know that smoking is an almost non-existent problem on campus.”

Such statements by Provost Etchemendy appear to be an attempt to instill doubt about the health efficacy of a tobacco-free Stanford in spite of over 1,000 American colleges and universities having moved away from similar lax tobacco use policies and having declared their campuses tobacco-free. Apparently instilling doubt about the deleterious health impacts of tobacco smoke and secondhand smoke is not a practice solely reserved for the tobacco industry.

Having been raised by a chain-smoking father, I discovered certain truths about tobacco smoke: it lingers endlessly in the air into which it was born; it ever so willingly hitches a ride on any breeze it can find, travelling as far as the breeze may go; it clings like a leech to the body and clothes of the smoker and nonsmoker alike and to the walls, ceilings, carpets, drapes and furniture where you live, work and play; and it defecates a trail of ashes and butts in its airborne wake.

But most painfully, tobacco smoke stuck like glue to the lungs of my smoking father and my non-smoking mother – killing them both.

The Stanford community should not be denied a tobacco-free environment by those claiming that Stanford is just too large a campus for a tobacco-free policy to be reasonable and effective. Because Stanford sanctions a smoking population anywhere on campus, the nonsmoker still runs the risk of being overwhelmed by smokers’ deadly fumes, especially engulfing the close quarters of a classroom, library, office or dorm. Stanford needs to heed TEROC’s call “to adopt a policy to prohibit the use of all tobacco products, including electronic smoking devices, on all University properties to protect the health of [its] students, faculty, staff and visitors.”

In closing its letter to Provost Etchemendy, TEROC stated it “would appreciate [his] correspondence updating the Committee on the progress of Stanford University’s tobacco-free policy adoption.”

I look forward to seeing how Provost Etchemendy intends to respond to TEROC, and if he finally takes seriously the “duty” entrusted to him by Mrs. Stanford of ensuring the good physical health of all Stanford students.

Donald A. Bentley

Master of Science in Civil Engineering, 1982, Stanford University

Contact Donald A. Bentley at don.bentley ‘at’ stanfordalumni.org.

  • james

    I would guess the amount of pollution on campus is atronomically greater from automobiles than some people smoking. Would you measure the amount of smoke from cigarets on campus and the amount of pollution from other sources. I am not going to be convinced about the hazard unless there is some quantitative data about the percentage of cigaret smoke in the campus atmosphere.

  • BaDaBing

    I highly doubt you’ve been back on campus since 82. Smokers are shunned (yes, I was one, oh my God life is so unfair!) and made to feel bad enough already, and the effects of second hand smoke in an outside setting are negligible. Know what is doing more harm to our students than smoking on campus? Those religious clowns in White Plaza, polluting our brains with their cancerous fairytales.

  • sharonsgames

    Smokers act (I don’t know if they are) oblivious to the uneasiness of nonsmokers when they are smoking. I love the way that not smoking is the norm in California and that it is not accepted. It is unacceptable to many for people to not act responsibly if it is within their power to do so. I pity those who have disorders and end up obese because of brain damage or genetic factors; I root for those people. However, smoking is a habit that is not genetically determined; I root for those who do not or wish to quit smoking and respect others.