Extinguishing Fordham’s Smoking Habit


A recently-discovered “smoking gene” makes it harder for some to quit. (CRAIG CALEFATE/THE OBSERVER)


Every year on the third Thursday of November, the American Cancer Society challenges smokers across the nation to come together and take part in the Great American Smokeout. On Nov. 17, Fordham University will host its annual Great Fordham Smokeout at both the Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campuses, in which faculty members aid students in quitting (or contemplating quitting) smoking.

David Vassar, a reference librarian at Quinn library, is one of the many faculty dedicated to The Great Fordham Smokeout. Vassar explained that the Smokeout is an opportunity “to bring awareness to the possibility of greater health for yourself and the environment around you.”

“We really hope that this time it can be an occasion for some, especially of our smoking students, to seriously consider quitting now, while it is maybe not such a deeply entranced addiction as it may well become in later years,” Vassar emphasized.

Vassar has worked at Fordham for nearly 18 years, and as both a father and an educator, he expresses a deep concern for the well-being of the Fordham community. After noticing an abundance of students smoking on campus, Vassar felt obliged to help. “It just occurred to me one day that there are quite a few students who are lighting up,” he said, “and it always bothered me to see that. You know, these are really bright young people. They are conscientious.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 40 million adults in the United States currently smoke cigarettes. A leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., cigarettes account for upwards of 480,000 deaths per year. Thus , it is no surprise that both Fordham faculty and students are concerned with the well-being of our smoking community. In an effort to shift the Fordham Lincoln Center campus into a healthier, smoke-free environment, last spring the Department of Facilities Operations banned smoking within 50 feet of all building entrances, as well as street-level and plaza-level entrances to Lowenstein, McMahon and McKeon. While the University has no formal plans to ban smoking completely, the new policy is a step in a positive direction.

When it comes to quitting, Vassar places value on the importance of self-care. “Fordham has this ethic of cura personalis, [which is] basically care for the whole person,” he said, “and I really think it behooves Fordham as a community to really encourage the younger members of this community particularly to choose lifestyles that are good for them and their surrounding community— because tobacco smoke does adversely affect people around you as well, and that’s another big interest of mine.”

Cigarette smoke in the public sphere has become a norm, and some New Yorkers, such as Vassar, have grown accustomed to clouded air. “I love walking around New York,” he explained, “but sometimes, if you’ve got a smoker ahead of you, you really can’t avoid that fallout unless you take evasive action (which I sometimes do).” Vassar believes that the smoking issue surpasses just the smoker, and stresses the crippling effects of secondhand smoke. “It’s really a community health problem, it’s not simply the smoker himself or herself.”

Caroline Shriver, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’19, is a concerned student. A member of the Alvin Ailey BFA Dance program, Shriver feels particularly strong about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. “When I see people who smoke, especially dancers or athletes, I’m sad because I know it will shorten their career a lot.” In regards to assisting students in kicking the habit, Shriver says a clear presentation of the harmful side effects is sufficient. “I think showing people the facts about smoking is really helpful. For people who are committed to dance or being an athlete, telling them how it will affect their career would be beneficial.”

“Personally, the health effects are the main deterrent for me not to smoke,” Melanie Katz, FCLC ’20, stated. Katz is another member of the Fordham community who chooses not to smoke. When it comes to friends and acquaintances that smoke, Katz believes quitting is a decision that the smoker must make for themselves. “I try to encourage my friends not to smoke,” she explained, “however, it is their prerogative. Also, I understand that it can be very difficult to stop once you’ve started.” Katz added, “I think that [Fordham] should provide support to help students quit smoking, if they do not already do so. Smoking is a serious addiction and needs to be treated as such.”

The Fordham Smokeout will be an opportunity for the Fordham community to come together and commit to pursuing healthier lifestyles. Whether you are a smoker or non-smoker, the event is an excellent way to learn more information about the many adverse effects of smoking. Students interested in quitting can expect “quit care packages,” filled with tobacco-free items to help reduce the urge to smoke. The package consists of mints, chewing gum, straws, lollipops and informational handouts on staying tobacco free. “

There will be a number of pieces of information related to quitting, to the damage that smoking does, as well as ways of quitting, with a lot of tips,” Vassar explained. The Fordham Smokeout will serve as a reminder that “there are ultimately more enjoyable ways to live life.”

Vassar added, “Really it’s going to be an appeal for students to listen to their better judgment.” Urging students to band together, he says “Please, if you have a friend who smokes, talk to this person. Friends don’t let friends smoke, that’s kind of an attitude that we have.”

During The Great Fordham Smokeout, faculty members will ask participating students to complete a six question survey. Fordham University Health Services explained, “Once students [respond] to the questionnaire, we are then able to rate their level of nicotine dependence according to the points allotted for each answer.” The scoring system ranges from zero (no dependence) to 10 (very dependent). “Higher scores typically [reflect] higher dependence on nicotine,” the department added.

The questionnaire enables faculty to trace the success of the event. In 2015, 12 Lincoln Center participants assessed their overall nicotine dependence. “Out of the 12 participants, three participants (25 percent) scored a very dependent level, three participants (25 percent) scored a moderate dependent level, four participants (33.33 percent) scored at low dependent level, and two participants (16.66 percent) scored at no dependent level.” The turnout for this year’s event can help faculty members efficiently and accurately record current statistics on Fordham’s smoking community, giving faculty an idea of the effectiveness of their efforts.

The event will kick off at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17, and will conclude at 3 p.m. Lincoln Center students will find information booths in the Lowenstein Plaza and Rose Hill students in the McGinley Center lobby. In addition to the table with an abundance of information and guidance, Vassar and his colleagues will spend portions of the day outside, talking one-on-one with student smokers. “I think that tabling is great, but taking the message to the folks involved is raising the bar a bit, hopefully in a positive way.”