Tobacco ban on home stretch

The University community can comment on the ban through Jan. 9.

Tobacco ban on home stretch

Tyler Gieseke

A tobacco-free policy at the University of Minnesota opened for public comment online Monday, one of the final steps to its approval.

University employees, students and the public will have one month to voice their opinions on the hotly debated ban before it’s revised one more time.

The new policy would expand the current indoor-smoking ban to forbid all tobacco use — as well as e-cigarettes — anywhere on the Twin Cities, Duluth and Rochester campuses.

The proposed ban allows possible exemptions for research studies, Native American ceremonies, theater performances and, in some cases, the interiors of private vehicles.

The comment period ends Jan. 9, when the President’s Policy Committee will either approve or alter the policy before it takes effect.

Enforcement of the ban relies on the University community rather than law enforcement. Police officers wouldn’t be able to ticket violators, said Ferd Schlapper, Boynton Health Service’s director and chief health officer, but he’s optimistic that nearly everyone will comply when the public reminds violators that they can’t smoke. Schlapper said repeat offenders could face disciplinary action under the University’s conduct codes.

In the months leading up to the policy’s implementation, Boynton plans to run education campaigns so people are aware of the policy and understand its implications, Schlapper said.

Research shows with enough time to educate the public on policies that restrict tobacco, 95 percent of the population will comply, Schlapper said.

Geological engineering sophomore Sophie Kasahara said smokers would be less likely to smoke under the ban but didn’t think that people would tell others to stop.

For example, “dry campuses typically aren’t very dry,” Kasahara said.

From smoke-free to tobacco-free

The ban has transformed throughout the drafting process, expanding its scope.

“This policy has been years in the making,” said Heidi Rieck, a University student who has been involved with developing the policy and gathering student opinions. Rieck is a member of both the Minnesota Student Association and the Student Health Advisory Committee.

Last fall, MSA voted to support a smoke-free campus policy out of concern for students’ health, Rieck said.

At that time, then-MSA representative to the Board of Regents Kyle Kroll said the policy should be smoke-free and not tobacco-free. He said it wasn’t MSA’s role to dictate individuals’ choices unless they harmed other students, like through second-hand smoke.

But the smoke-free distinction didn’t last. 

After other stakeholders scrutinized the proposed ban, they voted to expand it beyond just smoking and encompass all tobacco products, Rieck said.

More than 40 Minnesota campuses have adopted tobacco-free policies, compared to three campuses in the state that have adopted smoke-free policies, according to a Boynton document that outlines the policy. A smoke-only ban could lead to increased use of other tobacco product, Boynton says.

Almost 65 percent of University of Minnesota-Twin Cities students support a smoke-free policy, according to Boynton’s 2013 College Student Health Survey. About a quarter of current student smokers support the policy. The survey doesn’t include information about student support for a tobacco-free policy.

Some students are upset the ban includes e-cigarettes, which emit vapor rather than smoke and can include nicotine.

“I think that’s silly,” said chemical engineering senior Molly McGuire, since e-cigarettes are allowed in some bars and don’t emit smoke.