BEYOND HEALTH: POTENTIAL IMPLICATIONS OF FAILURE TO ADDRESS CAMPUS TOBACCO ISSUES

The impact of tobacco use on campus extends beyond health effects. Schools that fail to address tobacco use could face potential negative consequences such as lawsuits, financial losses, and reduced academic reputation.

 

Lawsuits:

  • Tobacco lawsuits are a prominent feature in today’s legal landscape. In an increasingly litigious society, grounds for lawsuits against colleges can take several forms:
    • Faculty and Staff. The Occupational Safety & Health Association (OSHA) requires that employers provide a safe working environment for employees. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) classification of Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) as a Class A Carcinogen means that employers who do not provide a smoke-free environment may be in violation with OSHA guidelines. No threshold has been established that marks a safe level of exposure to ETS. Consider the custodial, maintenance, and residence life staff that work in dorms where smoking is permitted. Employee ETS exposure in such situations make lawsuits feasible.
    • The Americans with Disabilities Act calls for employers to protect against exposure to ETS. People with asthma, tobacco-related allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease are all at risk of impairment due to ETS. If colleges do not make reasonable accommodations, faculty and staff with respiratory disorders can claim that they have been discriminated against due to their disability (http://www.tobacco.neu.edu/tobacco_control/
      resources/ETS/adainfo1.htm
      ).
    • Students and Alumni. Due to housing shortages, students who request smoke-free living space are sometimes unavoidably placed in dorms where smoking is permitted. Unwanted exposure to ETS in the residence halls could pose legal problems to colleges if students or even alumni develop smoking-related illnesses. More and more schools are implementing smoke-free residence halls because of their protective health and safety benefits.

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Lower Academic Performance and Appeal

  • As is outlined in the Negative Effects of Tobacco fact sheet, tobacco use has been associated with lower GPAs among students. Smoking prevalence is also lower at highly selective schools. Smoking can thus lower a school’s reputation in terms of academic performance and possibly detract from its ability to bolster student achievement and attract top students.
  • As smoking becomes less tolerable throughout society, potential students and their parents are finding smoke-free campuses increasingly appealing. Consider that Bowdoin College President Barry Mills received a dozen letters from parents of incoming students praising him for Bowdoin’s Smoke-Free Dorm Policy. When President Robert Carothers announced the University of Rhode Island’s smoke-free policies at freshman orientation in 2001, he received standing ovations from both students and parents. As schools compete for top students, those who fail to create a smoke-free environment may fall behind.

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