U community split over upcoming tobacco-free policy

The campus ban on tobacco products will take effect next week, and it will mainly rely on social enforcement.

by Kendall Moon

After years of debate and discussion, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities will prohibit smoking and tobacco use on campus beginning July 1.

The new policy will ban smoking, selling, free distributing and advertising tobacco products and electronic cigarettes on University property, a move officials say will make the campus environment healthier. But some still question just how the University will enforce the ban and how it could affect the campus community.

Boynton Health Service’s Director of Health and Promotion Julie Sanem said the policy will be socially enforced, counting on the campus community to respect the ban.

“We’re really relying upon everyone in the campus community to promote and enforce this policy,” she said.

More than half of student smokers reported that campus was one of their common locations for their tobacco use, according to the 2013 Boynton College Student Health Survey.

As a way to discourage people from smoking on campus, the University created enforcement cards, which outline the tobacco-free policy and are intended to be handed out to those violating the policy.

The policy doesn’t offer specific consequences for those who violate it, but it does say repeat offenders may face disciplinary action under student and employee conduct codes.

The University of Minnesota-Duluth, which has been a smoke-free campus since 2008, relies on police and peer enforcement, said Lisa Erwin, vice chancellor of student life at the Duluth campus. So far, she said those enforcement methods have made the ban successful.

“Overall, my sense of the impact of the policy has been tremendously positive,” she said.

The Duluth, Crookston and Rochester campuses will also begin banning all tobacco products July 1.

Stephanie Scott, an executive administrative assistant for the University’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine and a non-smoker, said she’s excited for the ban to begin but questioned how the University plans to get the rule to stick.

“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “I just wonder who’s going to enforce it.”

Mixed reactions

Although they may support it, some students say parts of the policy take away individuals’ personal freedom.

Strategic communications senior Samson Melkamu recently quit smoking and said he sees the health benefits in a smoke-free campus, but he doesn’t support the tobacco-free part of the ban. For example, he said, chewing tobacco doesn’t affect anyone but the user, so he thinks the ban takes away some
personal liberties.

“I can understand the whole harming someone else with secondhand smoke, but chewing tobacco? That’s kind of ridiculous,” Melkamu said.

Some student groups also voiced concern with provisions within the new policy.

Drew Coveyou, a former board member of the American Indian Student Cultural Center,  said the student organization was originally excited about the policy’s provisions that allow tobacco to be used for Native American spiritual or cultural ceremonies. But since the initial resolution was made, those privileges have become more restrictive than the group had hoped, he said.

According to the policy, any tobacco use for the ceremonies must be approved in advance by the director of environmental health and safety.

Before the ban, he said, the group had more freedom of expression through using tobacco in its pipe ceremonies on campus. But now group members will have to jump through more hoops before the ceremonies, he said.

“We were kind of surprised in the beginning that it had [cultural provisions], but then in the end they turned out to be a little bit more
prescriptive and regulatory than we had hoped,” Coveyou said.

Staff and faculty members may also feel the effects of the policy change.

Debbie Schutta, an employee at the University’s Minnesota Supercomputing Institute, said that as a smoker, she’s been prepared for the ban for quite a while, recognizing that smoke-free campuses are a growing trend nationwide.

“I’m ready for July 1 to roll around,” she said. “I figure if I need a cigarette that bad, I’ll just walk a few blocks to get off the University of Minnesota campus.”

Boynton outpatient clinic assistant Dettie Murphy doesn’t smoke and said overall, the policy is a good idea for the University, but she sympathizes with people on both sides of the debate.

“I sort of balance it with the person’s right to do that, but I also see how it impacts other people, too,” she said.

The ban is intended to clear the campus’ air and help smokers fight their addiction, said Boynton’s Director and Chief Health Officer Ferd Schlapper.

“A major, major portion of this [policy], for a health concern, is helping people get off of cigarettes and nicotine addiction,” Schlapper said.