Enforcement of Mason smoking policy still under review

Mason has revised its “Smoke Free Environment” policy to make sure it is in accordance with Virginia law.

University Policy 2214 gives regulations for smoking in and around campus buildings, including a rule that smokers must maintain a 25-foot distance away from the entrance or exit of a building, in accordance with Virginia Executive Order 41.

The policy was established on June 7, 2004 to maintain compliance with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act and Virginia Executive Order 41, which was passed in 2006 and banned smoking in state office buildings, vehicles and other enclosed areas. Revisions have been made throughout the years with the most recent being in Feb. 2014.

In accordance with Virginia law, Executive Order 41 calls on the university to create guidelines about smoking on outdoor property. Several offices, departments and students have been involved in the committee to give recommendations on the smoking policy, including Facilities, Environmental Health and Safety, Human Resources and Payroll, University Life, Faculty Senate and Mason Student Government.

The “Smoke Free-Environment” policy also includes smoking regulations set forth by Housing and Residence Life that prohibit smoking within 25 feet of their buildings. OHRL also bans hookahs (lit or not) within their buildings but not outside. Electronic cigarettes are not banned under either Policy 2214 or by OHRL.

According to Todd Rose, the associate dean in University Life, these guidelines have been part of an on-going process at Mason for years.

“So all of this started really four years ago, with student government making some recommendations about smoking on campus,” Rose said. “So they held a series of forums and put a Facebook up to try to get a sense of student interest in this as an issue and then student preference as far as what would like to see.”

As a result, Student Government proposed increased signage, enforcement and even smoking cabana areas, which did not come to fruition. Since then, signs have been placed on several buildings throughout campus. Other guidelines within the policy state that smoking locations cannot impede traffic flow and that smokers must use ash urns to dispose of their cigarettes. The urns can be moved and the 25 foot rule is sometimes ignored by the Mason community.

“Violations of the 25 foot rule can be seen on a daily basis while walking throughout campus,” said Dilan Wickrema, the student body vice president. “The enforcement part has definitely been the major issue as University Policy 2214 places the compliance on the general population to help enforce the regulation.”

Wendy Caroll, life work connections specialist in Human Resources and Payroll, also says that part of the enforcement is up to everyone and a lot of it has to do with compassion and respect. When new employees come to Mason, they are given a handout about courtesy toward smokers and non-smokers. It details different ways each side can be courteous to one another, specifically about the smoking policy.

“[Human Resources and Payroll] have been working on trying to get both sides more empathetic toward one another,” Caroll said. “We don’t want folks that are having a hard time quitting feeling like they’re being shunned […] and at the same time understanding that some people don’t want to be around all the smoke.”

The policy mentions that a safe and healthy environment is a shared responsibility for everyone. Janet Walker, life work manager in Human Resources and Payroll, hopes that people will do the right thing given the structure to do so. However, the student body still thinks that more enforcement is necessary before they should take action.

“The feedback from the students that [Student Government has] been getting is that there does need to be more regulation and enforcement of University Policy 2214,” Wickrema said. “Currently the committee is working through how to effectively implement the 25 feet rule and inform the George Mason community on the regulation and the reasoning behind it.”

Melissa Mooney, a graduate student at Mason, received her undergraduate degree at Towson University, a smoke-free campus. As an autistic person, she says that the smoke can trigger neurological problems because her senses are very sensitive. Mooney says she would like Mason to be smoke free or at least have designated smoking areas.

“[The smoke is] very overwhelming and makes me feel sick,” Mooney said. “When I started at [Towson] it was still a smoking campus with all the same problems as GMU has right now. After going smoke free, I didn’t have to worry about walking in someone’s cloud on my way to class, and I didn’t have to deal with the neurological effects.”

According to Rose, the university has drafted surveys regarding smoking on campus that they are still in the process of finalizing. However, the university can only change the policy so much because part of it is state law.

According to Mooney, Towson’s enforcement involved a heavier presence of security officers on campus. However, Walker, Caroll and Rose say they do not want Mason’s policy to be disciplinary but, rather, more education and community centered.

The smoking policy was also established as a health and safety concern, according to Julie Zobel, the assistant vice-president for Environmental Health and Safety.

“The requirement that individuals stay 25 feet away from buildings when smoking is based on regulations within the Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code,” Zobel said. “However, because it is well understood that secondhand smoke is a health hazard, this requirement is also beneficial for limiting the amount of smoke that becomes entrained in indoor environments.”

Rose said they were hoping to get the policy settled last year, but they still do not know where the enforcement aspect will go.

“Ultimately, what we would like is, and this is true with everything, that we’re a community where we all have a role and responsibility of feeling some level of reasonable enforcement,” Rose said.

This story was originally published in the Sep.8 issue of Fourth Estate