Encouraging smoke-free campus debate

Legislation for smoke-free air serves in the best interest of the 96 percent of students who aren’t daily smokers.

As the co-chairs of the Student Health Advisory Committee of Boynton Health Service and the University, we felt it appropriate to respond to the Jan. 24 column by Andy Post “Campuswide smoking ban on the table.” SHAC is a student organization with a mission to monitor and assess the issues that affect the health of students on this campus and to advocate for the overall health of the University community. The issue of secondhand smoke on the Twin Cities campus happens to be “one of several fluffy and meaningless items” on our most recent SHAC agenda.

According to the surgeon general’s report, any exposure to secondhand smoke is dangerous whether it is indoor or outdoor; there is no safe level. The risk associated with secondhand smoke only shows a decrease as the distance increases between the smoker and the passerby. But the risk is never at a level zero. Even though it is legal, it is universal knowledge that smoking is unhealthy.

We agree with Post that it is time to get back to the basics of a strong education by putting the needs of the students first. According to the Boynton Health Service 2007 Survey, of University students ages 18-24 in the Twin Cities, only 4 percent of the student population are daily smokers and 79 percent of students don’t smoke at all. There have also been numerous complaints from students regarding outdoor smoking. We feel that the issue of legislation for smoke-free air serves in the best interest of the 96 percent of students who aren’t daily smokers. It is an issue that at least deserves consideration, which is why it has been a major topic of discussion in SHAC so far this school year. That doesn’t mean we have already decided on a position to advocate for a smoke-free campus. Instead, we are taking the time to consider the broad range of issues associated with a smoke-free campus in order to assure that our final resolution is well-reasoned and will best serve the interests of our unique population.

The University has the legal authority to ban any substance from its property even if it is otherwise legal. Many other universities have already effectively implemented smoke-free campus policies. Any policy that puts in place barriers to smoking helps to decrease the initiation of smoking and increases the number of smokers who quit. That is a good thing. The recently enacted Freedom to Breathe Act is showing that to be true and is also serving as a stimulus for the broader community to support moving toward smoke-free outdoor air.

The bottom line is that the discussion of smoke-free campus issues should be encouraged. The Student Health Advisory Committee would like to stress that this is an important issue. There are many details to discuss regarding smoke-free campus including some things that Post touched on such as campus-wide enforcement. This is not a cut-and-dry issue, and it may not have a cut-and-dry solution – if a broader smoking policy is adopted on campus it may not be all or nothing. Even though to Post it seems that we “have too much time on our hands,” we would like him to know that this is an important health issue that deserves the limited time we have to spend on keeping this campus safe and healthy. The Student Health Advisory Committee solicits any feedback or opinions from the student population regarding smoke-free campus issues.

Chloe Schrab and Heather Horton are Co-Chairwomen of the Student Health Advisory Committee at Boynton Health Service. Please send comments to [email protected]