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Faculty Senate postpones vote on all-campus smoking ban

The Faculty Senate decided on Thursday to postpone a vote on an all-campus smoking ban, referring it to committees to consider alternatives. It also rejected a motion to support President John Hennessy’s Feb. 19 call to maintain thoughtful and civil discourse at Stanford.

The smoking ban was proposed by psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor Keith Humphreys in conjunction with the student group Tobacco Free Stanford. The ASSU Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council had already endorsed the proposal.

The current smoking policy is that smoking is generally permitted outdoors, except during organized events. Outdoor smoking must be at least 30 feet away from doorways, open windows, covered walkways and ventilation systems, according to the University website.

The main aspects Humphreys emphasized were that the ban respect the right of non-smokers to breathe clean air, reinforce healthy lifestyles and potentially assist individuals who are in the process of quitting smoking.  He also noted that many other universities, including Harvard, have already become non-smoking campuses.

Humphreys acknowledged possible counterarguments in his presentation but insisted on the freedom of non-smokers to live in a non-smoking environment. He emphasized that the ban applies to smoke, not the smokers themselves.

He also insisted that the measure would not lead to more bans on things like potato chips or sugary sodas.

“We’re intelligent people of goodwill,” he said of the Faculty Senate. “How many of you would vote to ban potato chips?”

Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ’82 was one of the major dissenters. He said that this issue has come up many times, but he has never decided to act on it.

He explained that “secondhand smoke is not an issue” on Stanford’s campus and that “you have to try hard to find a smoker and then stand next to them” to get significant exposure to it. He also mentioned that the other schools that have banned smoking do not have the large campus that Stanford has.

Decreasing the already low smoking rate at Stanford “is something we should do with education and encouragement but not laws or policies,” Etchemendy said.

Others voiced concerns that a ban like this would shame smokers, who might already feel ashamed and are trying to be considerate. One faculty member asked whether the Senate wants to get into the business of regulating these kinds of issues in general and compared the smoking issue to students’ not wearing bike helmets, drinking too much and texting while biking.

Other concerns included the distance that people would have to walk in order to smoke, especially for students studying in their dorm in the middle of the night. Another concern was that the ban might encourage people to break the current policy.

“If we didn’t allow them to smoke within 30 feet of the building and instead told them they had to travel half a mile, they’d be smoking inside,” said Ross Shachter, associate professor of management science and engineering.

There were also various supporters of the motion, including professor of microbiology and immunology Philip Pizzo, who was involved in banning smoking on the medical school’s campus in 2007, and others who defended the rights of non-smokers – especially individuals with asthma or lung problems – to breathe clean air.

Professor in medicine Julie Parsonnet, who is the Resident Fellow in Robinson House, said that smoking inside and outside the dorm “has been the biggest issue in the dorm in the last two years. We get complaints in Robinson literally every day about smoking.”

Ultimately, professor of pathology Andy Fire suggested that the Senate should refer the motion to committees to find a solution that would allow smokers to “continue to smoke without having to go off campus but could decrease the current level of smoking on campus.” The senate voted in favor of moving the motion to committees.

Jake Rosenberg, president of Tobacco Free Stanford, was disappointed by the Senate’s decision. He explained that secondhand smoke is “physically and medically hurting Stanford students.”

“It is a direct form of violence against students and is the difference between Stanford students making it to their 50th reunion or not,” Rosenberg said.

While Rosenberg recognized that a ban might be inconvenient for smokers, he said that this inconvenience was not comparable “when you weigh it against the fact that [secondhand smoke] will kill Stanford students.”

After the vote and during the “New Business” section of the meeting, biology professor Robert Simoni brought a motion that would encourage the Senate to support Hennessy’s call at the Feb. 19 Senate meeting to maintain thoughtful and civil discourse at Stanford.

Rush Rehm Ph.D. ’85, professor of theater & performing studies and of classics, quickly dissented on the basis that the action could stifle debate.

Associate professor of the Department of English Paula Moya said she thought that the motion seemed unnecessary.

This article has been corrected to reflect that professor of pathology Andy Fire suggested the Faculty Senate move the motion back to committee to find a new way to reduce smoking on campus. The Daily regrets this error. 

Contact Emma Neiman at eneiman ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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