By: The Caravan
Although more universities are moving toward smoke-free campuses, smoking continues to be common at AUC.
The American University in Beirut (AUB) recently announced that it would go completely tobacco-free by the start of the following year. AUC also plans to do so by February 2019.
In order to create a healthy environment on campus, AUC held a roundtable discussion last Monday featuring a number of representatives of the AUC community as well as experts in public health from New York University (NYU)’s School of Medicine, Scott Sherman and Omar El Shahawy.
Health, as integral to the student experience, is ultimately how AUC can go from “good to great”, President Francis Ricciardone said, kicking off the discussion.
The goal was to discuss preliminary steps on assembling a task force consisting of students, faculty and staff representatives to ease the transition to a smoke-free campus.
“It is a holistic issue, and we have, as a community in AUC, to deal with this issue,” Professor of Engineering Maki Habib said.
A survey conducted a few years ago of 700 members of the AUC community, including staff, students and faculty, found that the rate of smoking on campus is in fact higher than that of Egypt.
While the rate of male smoking appeared to be the same as the Egyptian rate, it was the female rate that made the difference.
“Women smoking in Egypt is low, but we have a lot of women smoking on campus. So, when we construct a strategy, we should keep in mind that there might be gender issues to consider,” Professor of Psychology Carie Forden said.
The number one reason for smoking was stress, the survey found. This supports the call to turn AUC into a healthy campus by introducing exercise plans, yoga and meditation as methods of reducing stress, she added.
“We don’t have enough incentives for smokers to quit and any we come up with will be minimal when you have people who have been smoking since they were 10 years old,” Student Union (SU) President Mohamed Gadalla said.
Gadalla, along with Professor of Practice of Journalism and Mass Communication Mervat Abou Oaf, recommended having a designated smoking area on campus for smokers, where they will be met with medical experts, counselors and former quitters offering aid.
“Psychologically, it’s a little demoting to have to go to an area because you are addicted to something,” Abou Oaf said.
The carrot or the stick?
Under Egyptian law, it is illegal to smoke in an educational establishment.
Abou Oaf made reference to the overbreadth doctrine, which dictates that one cannot claim their rights while infringing on the rights of others.
“It is illegal, and perhaps this needs to be communicated more clearly,” she said.
Habib pointed out that the current rules implemented at AUC are from the 2012 ‘No-Smoking Policy’, indicating that the issue at stake is in fact enforcement.
“I don’t know why we are shying away from penalties; regardless from where the society is, implementing a policy cannot work without penalties.”
However, others remained skeptical about punitive measures on students who will become much more antagonistic and uncooperative.
“Punishment is not going to work; negative enforcement is not going to work. The message we should send is that ‘the University is here to help’; implementing the law should be a gradual process,” a member of the Parents Association (PA) added.
This is referred to as ‘habituation’ where addicts and smokers become accustomed to a new way of life.
“This should also act as a form of positive reinforcement for non-smokers, as those who can help. There are people who don’t want to be smokers.”
Balancing both penalties and incentives is the preferred means of achieving the message of the campaign, which includes getting smokers to quit, El Shahawy said.
“We have to look at AUC with a different approach; if we are talking about clean air, then Cairo has one of the highest levels of pollution,” President of the Parents Association Mona Nasef said.
“I think the education portion is naturally very important. In the United States, we bombard [students] with commercials. Students here in Egypt don’t get that; they have no idea of the health consequences – they are totally oblivious.”
However, student representatives present at the roundtable discussion were quick to point out that this is not necessarily the case.
“We might want to focus on the technicalities of health concerns because it did seem that smokers knew how bad smoking was for them,” Forden added.
“They’re still bound to peer pressure. You go to a restaurant and it doesn’t matter what the social status is, you’ll find kids, as well as adults, sitting with their shisha. Forty years ago, that did not happen,” El-Fawal said.
THE COOL THING TO DO?
The research conducted by Forden reveals that smokers would comply if asked to put out a cigarette by a non-smoker, but that the latter were afraid to do so out of peer pressure.
“So, what we might want to do is think of how to empower non-smokers to speak up,” she said.
Particular concern was also raised regarding freshman who enter AUC as non-smokers but pick up the habit along the way.
“From my perspective as the Dean of Students, I’ve noticed that from the time students come in their first year and meet with their student peers, who are their mentors and guides, a lot of them don’t smoke but the peer leaders do,” Dean of Students George Marquis said.
“I recently had a meeting with them to make sure they wouldn’t smoke, at least in front of students, because of the message it sends.”
Among the most committed smokers, however, are faculty, said Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology Mona Amer.
The policy will therefore need to be drafted to target the different needs of the various parties effectively, she added.