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Town Hall Meeting on Tobacco Policy – “This is About Health”

On Thursday, March 20th, a group of students and faculty gathered in the Administration building’s auditorium. The point? To deliver their feelings and opinions to Emmanuel’s ad hoc committee. The committee was set up to review the college’s current tobacco policy, and deliver a recommendation to the President’s cabinet on whether to go smoke and/or tobacco free. Students were encouraged to come to this Town Hall style meeting with hopes of allowing members of the Emmanuel community to “voice their views or concerns on whether or not Emmanuel should modify its policy.”

The auditorium was filled with rows of seating for an expected large turnout. However, there was a disappointingly low amount of people who actually attended. There was close to a dozen students and the same for faculty, staff, and administration. Even the full committee was not present. If any person wanted to speak before the assembly, they first had to sign their name on a list, creating some odd moments for those who wanted to speak on a spontaneous note or in response to something. Eventually, this was discarded and anyone who wanted to talk simply walked up to the microphone. Despite the clear desire to remain professional, there were several moments of eye rolls and frustration from both sides over course of the hour and a half long meeting.

Sarah Welsh, Vice President for Government and Community Relations started off the meeting, with a statement on the national movement to ban tobacco on college campuses. Claiming that “the new norm is to put smoking areas on the city streets,” she urged everyone to consider joining the movement. Welsh later stated that Emmanuel’s administrators are not attempting to be “trendy,” but merely would miss out if they were to not participate in the national tobacco-free conversation.

One of the first points brought up to the assembly was the question of enforcement. Giancarlo D’Alotto ’16, wanted to know how Emmanuel would enforce any and all future tobacco restrictions. Director of Campus Security Jack Kelly responded that in the past, Emmanuel has had “no degree of success” when trying to enforce current and previous smoking rules, saying “it went nowhere.” Later on, Kelly told the crowd that, while some students are compliant with the current rules in place, he has had altercations with others—complicating his ability to enforce these regulations. He then said that the college would need to rethink how it currently enforces its rules on smoking in order to maintain a certain level of order.

Committee member Maria Parisi, a smoking cessation nurse consultant from South Shore Hospital then spoke on the dangers of second-hand smoke and of nicotine itself.

“Nicotine addiction is the most potent addiction that you will ever find out there,” she said. “It’s stronger than heroine, cocaine, all of those drugs.”

One interesting point she brought up was the new concept of Thirdhand smoke. She mentioned new findings that show cigarette smoke settles in dust and can later cause health hazards for others that come in contact with the areas or individuals that carry or contain that dust.

Following Parisi came various students claiming that they felt ostracized and alienated from Emmanuel due to smoking restrictions. These individuals pushed the sentimentality of the situation on the committee.

“The further you move smoking from Emmanuel, the more you make smokers feel like they don’t belong at Emmanuel. At all,” said admitted smoker, Hunter Gosselin.

The students repeatedly brought up their personal struggles with the wind, mud and rain to the gathering. This approach garnered looks of sympathy from some and indifference from others.

At one point during the meeting, the results from The Hub’s student poll were read, with about 60% of the voters in favor of Emmanuel either keeping its current smoking policy or lifting restrictions, and the remaining 40% in favor of banning of smoking and/or all tobacco on campus.

Student Marie Mattano brought up the question that, if the college banned all tobacco products from campus, could anyone get written up for simply having a pack of cigarettes in their bag?

“This is about health,” Welsh responded. “It’s not about writing a ticket. It’s just about moving forward and not being punitive.”

As stated before, students were often informed that they needed to keep the health-related factors in mind. The last student to speak, Marcus Papetti, verbalized his concerns on the subject, saying “people make unhealthy decisions with their bodies everyday… if this is motivated by health, why are we still serving fried food in the cafeteria? Why don’t we have mandatory exercise programs?”

The committee gave no response.

As the meeting wound down, John Byrne spoke of the difficulties of enforcing any regulations, due to Emmanuel being a “cut-through campus.” Byrne noted that Emmanuel needed to articulate policy to other populations that come through campus, such as Emmanuel’s guests, Merck staff, and Simmons students. He informed the assembly that other people enter campus and administration would need to consider them when enforcing a smoke free campus.

The clear message of the committee was that the current debate isn’t about provisions for current smokers. It is not about policy. It’s about health. The administration is trying to look after its students’ general health, regardless of whether they want help or not.

The ad hoc committee’s final word is a part of pyramid-style of input, as it will merely serve as a suggestion to the President’s cabinet, who will make the official decision later this semester.

This seeming lack of direct input comes at an arguably rough time for the Emmanuel administration and faculty, who are currently under fire from students and alumni about transparency regarding tenure and contract renewal.



Posted by on April 2, 2014. Filed under Around Campus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.