Group pushes tobacco-free campus

The Student Health Advisory Committee tried to implement a similar policy in 2008.

Tony Schnabel, a senior majoring in political science, smokes before heading to class Monday outside of Blegen Hall.  Schnabel is a proponent of

Marisa Wojcik

Tony Schnabel, a senior majoring in political science, smokes before heading to class Monday outside of Blegen Hall. Schnabel is a proponent of “personal freedoms” and says that even if smokers had to go off campus to light up, people would still have to walk through their smoke.

Dina Elrashidy

A University of Minnesota student group is restarting its push to make campus tobacco-free by January 2013.

The Student Health Advisory Committee is vigilantly working to gather support from other student groups on campus, SHAC co-chairwoman Michelle Volz said. They also set up an online petition for students and faculty to sign in support of the policy.

âÄúWith a campus as large as ours, thereâÄôs so much risk for exposure to second-hand smoke,âÄù Volz said.

SHAC is trying to add the Twin Cities campus to a growing list of colleges across the state that have enacted similar policies.

The UniversityâÄôs Duluth campus went tobacco-free in September 2007. Minnesota State University Moorhead followed suit in 2008, as did the UniversityâÄôs Crookston campus in 2009. Mankato will have a tobacco-free campus beginning 2012.

Across the country, 587 colleges and universities have enacted 100 percent smoke-free campus policies âÄî up from 160 in 2008, according to the American for NonsmokersâÄô Rights Foundation.

According to a 2010 survey by Boynton Health Service, 17.7 percent of University students on the Twin Cities campus said they had used tobacco in the past month.

SHAC is looking for new University President Eric KalerâÄôs support in making the campus tobacco free.

âÄúWeâÄôve got to get on this,âÄù said David Golden, director of public health and communications at Boynton.

Kaler hasnâÄôt yet made clear his intentions about the proposed policy.

âÄúItâÄôs obviously a very complicated question,âÄù Kaler said. âÄúWhat I donâÄôt want to do is put in place policies that we cannot enforce.âÄù

SHAC first brought the subject to former President Bob Bruininks in 2008, Golden, SHACâÄôs adviser, said. He said he thought Bruininks didnâÄôt implement the policy because of concerns about its enforceability.

Those conversations in 2008 got the ball rolling with a survey conducted through the provostâÄôs office assessing the student, staff and faculty reaction to the possibility of a tobacco or smoke-free campus policy.

According to that survey, 90.1 percent of students and 84.9 percent of faculty and staff say they have been exposed to second-hand smoke on campus, with walking across campus listed as the number one place where students are exposed.

The size of the Twin Cities campus compared to other Minnesota campuses is an impediment, said John Finnegan, dean of the School of Public Health. He stressed the importance of a smoke-free campus for the safety of students and staff.

The enormity of the campus just means the University needs to talk realistically about enforcement, Finnegan said.

âÄúWe donâÄôt want [University police] going around looking for smokers,âÄù Finnegan said.

Instead, he said the hope is that the policy would create an atmosphere where smoking is discouraged. Students could enforce the policy themselves, Finnegan said.

UMD health educator and smoke-free policy co-chairwoman Dori Decker said sheâÄôs seen more students and faculty following the campus policy in her three years at the school.

âÄúWeâÄôre seeing a bit of a culture change,âÄù she said.

UMDâÄôs SHAC created the Breathe Free campaign in spring 2010 geared toward increasing peer enforcement of the policy. The volunteer group made up of students, faculty and staff provides âÄúreminders in a non-confrontational and informative way,âÄù said Decker.

Finnegan and Golden both emphasized that a policy on the Twin Cities campus would also give a push to smokers that want to quit.

âÄúIt gives people a right to ask people to stop smoking,âÄù said Golden.