Smoke-free campus proposal getting some pushback


A proposed smoke-free campus policy may prove to be a tough sell for some members in the Benefits and Welfare Committee.

The meeting on Oct. 24 saw opposing viewpoints from members of the committee — some advocating for the endorsement of a tobacco- and smoke-free campus policy and others questioning the “paternalistic” nature of the policy to regulate employee’s lifestyle decisions and asking for more time to review the proposal or an improvement to Pitt’s 2007 smoking policy already in place.

This proposal comes after Senate President Chris Bonneau announced earlier this month that there was a new initiative underway at Pitt to turn the University into a smoke- and tobacco-free campus.

Strict draft proposal

Angelina Riccelli, director of Pitt’s Dental Hygiene Program and associate professor with the School of Dental Medicine, presented a draft proposal at the meeting.

The proposal, which is still waiting on comments from other groups, called for a prohibition on using, selling or distributing and advertising tobacco products, including e-cigarettes/vaporizers, at “all facilities and on all University property.”

“The University of Pittsburgh is committed to promoting and protecting the health and safety of all campus community members and fostering an environment of respect for people and property through education and practice,” the draft read. “This commitment, along with the wealth of research documenting health risks associated with tobacco use, the assessments of regional and national trends, and input from the campus community provide the rationale for the establishment of the University as a smoke- and tobacco-use free campus.”

The draft goes on to say this policy is designed “protect and enhance” the health of students, faculty, staff and visitors. It would provide smoking cessation programming, including free medication and counseling, that would discourage members of the Pitt community from using tobacco products.

Riccelli said her experience in health care has shown her the negative effects of tobacco use, and that making Pitt smoke- and tobacco-free could prevent future health issues for Pitt students.

“When you think about that, I think we owe that to all of them to educate,” Riccelli said, adding that there are already departmental programs designed to educate faculty, staff and students on the dangers of tobacco use.

“We’re not restricting people’s rights,” Riccelli said. “If they want to smoke, there’s smoking areas not on University property. … We’re not just throwing people out in the cold. We have resources.”

She echoed sentiments from Bonneau and Noble Maseru, director of Pitt Public Health’s Center for Health Equity, saying that Pitt is long overdue for this kind of policy.

So far, more than 2,000 universities have already gone smoke-free, according to the American Cancer Society, and of those, 1,805 are tobacco-free. Penn State and the University of Pennsylvania are among those schools.

She also cited Temple University as an example Pitt can strive toward since it is also located in a city.

Lucas Berenbrok, assistant professor of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, said he supports the new proposal because of his experience in the medical field and because it promotes smoking cessation programs.

“(I) feel strongly that if we’re going to ask the entire campus to be smoke free, there needs to be some solutions for that,” Berenbrok said.

Opposition says policy intrusive

Riccelli ran into some opposition from Linda Tashbook, chair of the committee and adjunct professor in the School of Law.

Tashbook handed committee members a list of six reasons why she isn’t endorsing the proposed policy:

  1. It makes prospective employees feel unwelcome.
  2. It is “paternalistic” to regulate employee’s lifestyle decisions.
  3. It opens the door to additional policy intrusions on employees’ personal decision making.
  4. It has a “muddy” enforcement mechanism, and Chancellor Pat Gallagher is against policies with unclear enforcement methods
  5. The current smoking policy isn’t implemented effectively due to a lack of signs warning people of the policy.
  6. City traffic pollutes the air on campus, especially along Forbes Avenue.

Tashbook said Pitt could, instead, improve its 2007 smoking policy. The current policy prohibits smoking within 15 feet of “primary entrances” to University-owned buildings and establishes designated smoking areas.

In addition, it calls for University faculty, staff and students to make a “good faith” effort to make sure people are not violating this policy.

Tashbook said this enforcement method, which the draft proposal also places on the shoulders of the Pitt community, can and has set up awkward, confrontational situations.

She added that this proposal is a slippery slope that could lead to the University making other “intrusive” health policies on the lives of the Pitt community.

“I am opposed to policies, university-level, that tell people how to live their lives,” Tashbook said, even though she fully recognizes the dangerous effects of tobacco use.

Other committee members were concerned with how broad the language of the proposal is, which includes vaporizers and chewing tobacco.

A member said that she was unsure if chewing tobacco or vaporizers would affect others the same way cigarettes would.

Riccelli disagreed with the argument that chewing tobacco doesn’t affect others since those who use it often spit it out in public places. She added that there could be more research done into what policies were implemented following tobacco-free initiatives.

As for vaporizers, Barenbrok said the devices are beginning to be regulated by the FDA so there isn’t as much information available yet on the effects.

The meeting concluded before a vote could be taken on whether or not to push the concept of a smoke- and tobacco-free campus beyond the committee. The committee will revisit the topic after more feedback is gathered.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.