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2010-04-19

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'U' officials brainstorm plans to implement Smoke Free Initiative

By Stephanie Steinberg, Daily News Editor
Published April 16, 2010

Though the Smoke-Free University Initiative won’t take effect until July 2011, University officials and students are currently working on plans of how to implement the campus-wide smoking ban.

In an exclusive meeting with The Michigan Daily, members of the Smoke-Free University Initiative Student Life Subcommittee and University officials explained that several committees are gathering student, faculty and staff input for deciding how to best provide resources for smokers on campus once the ban is launched.

Simone Himbeault Taylor, associate vice president for the Division of Student Affairs, oversees the Smoke-Free University Initiative Student Life Subcommittee — a committee of 24 students, staff and faculty members from the University’s Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses. Taylor said one of the main jobs of the committee is to seek feedback on the smoking ban from University students.

“The whole notion is that our approach should have great transparency; it should have a lot of student involvement,” Taylor said.

Taylor said committee members range from “being militant nonsmokers to militant smokers,” as well as people who are ambivalent about the issue.

“We were quite intentional about having a group of folks that ran the gamut because we felt that that brings the greatest voice to the table,” Taylor said. "And if you can surface what the issues are, you are most likely to make decisions that are based on full input of the community at large, and you know what the controversies are and you can address them.”

Malinda Matney, senior research associate in the Division of Student Affairs, is in charge of gathering student input on the University’s decision to move toward a smoke-free campus.

Last October, Matney compiled a survey that was sent to 5,000 randomly selected University students. The University’s three smoke-free committees — focused on student input; health and wellness; and education — planned to use survey results for determining how to help smokers on campus and make the smoking ban effective.

According to Matney, 1,332 students responded to the survey — a number she said is “pretty miraculous.”

The survey evaluated students on their smoking behaviors. Results showed that about 23 percent of people surveyed reported partaking in smoking behaviors.

Matney said this data, as well as information from the University’s first-year student survey, University Health Service surveys and Counseling and Psychological Services surveys, show that relatively few University students smoke.

Though the majority of students don't smoke, the Smoke-Free survey sought to evaluate how the ban would impact students. When asked "to what extent will a non-smoking campus affect you?", 27.4 percent responded "not at all," while 21.4 percent responded "a great deal." The rest indicated that they would be "slightly," "moderately" or "considerably" impacted.

In addition, the survey asked students to report their ethnicity, gender, origin and involvement in student organizations on campus, among other characteristics.

Despite differences among respondents, Matney said a common theme students articulated in the survey was their concern for fairness for all students, faculty and staff regarding the Smoke-Free University Initiative. She added that many expressed mixed views of the University’s decision.

“The students aren’t of one voice within this,” Matney said. “Some students are very stridently against the initiative, and some students are very stridently in favor of it and saying ‘Let's do it tomorrow. Now. Let's do it now.’”

In March, a similar survey was sent to a new sample of 5,000 students to compare results with those of the first survey and for the smoke-free committees to use for making policy recommendations.

Matney said she is currently sorting through the data. Though she did not have any specific information, she said there was a 10-percent response rate.

When asked why 5,000 students were sampled in the surveys, Matney said it was a number large enough to get a “powerful” response. She added that the University doesn’t want to “burn out” students by sending a ton of surveys because they don’t want students to stop responding.

While these surveys questioned students about the Smoke-Free University Initiative, a separate committee is in charge of surveying the University faculty and staff.

One of the main differences between results of surveys sent to students and those sent to faculty and staff was the fear of gaining weight as a result of quitting smoking. Matney said it came as a surprise that faculty and staff were concerned about this effect, but students were not.

“One of the big concerns that people have is issues around weight. If I stop smoking I will gain weight. It was just assumed that our students would have that same concern,” Matney said.

However, students reported that they smoked for reasons other than weight loss or gain. According to survey results, the most common listed reason that students smoke is to alleviates stress, followed by smoking as a means of relaxation and an activity to do while drinking. The majority of students responded that they smoke while at parities.

CAPS Director Todd Sevig, co-chair of the health and wellness division of the Student Life Subcommittee, has been working with several focus groups of University students — who indicated in the Smoke-Free surveys that they would be willing to participate — to gather students’ advice for ideas on how to improve health services for students who may need resources when the ban is in place.

Sevig said feedback from the focus groups matched the outcome of the survey, which found that students smoke when feeling stressed.

Within the groups, Sevig said many students talked about smoking as a “mini break” or “mini vacation” from stressful academic and social activities.

As a result of information gathered from these discussions, Sevig said UHS is going to try to create new stress management programs for students as well as “repackage” existing CAPS and UHS services to cater further to students’ needs.

Sevig’s committee has also looked at what other smoke-free universities across the country have done to help students quit smoking. In its research, Sevig said the committee discovered that traditional quitting methods like smoking cessation products and weekly support sessions are not necessarily effective for students.

“The thing is gum, patches, support groups, they may work once we get out in the work world — older adults so to speak — but for some students that’s not a good fit,” Sevig said. “That’s not going to work. We need to think of different things, creative things.”

As of now, Sevig said he does not know if CAPS or UHS will offer smoking cessation products for free or for purchase, but he said the committee will do further research during the spring and summer terms to determine how best to help students who want to quit smoking.

Taylor said one of the main goals of offering new programs through CAPS and UHS is to assist students in “self-conscious decision making.”

“We’re not presuming to make decisions for people,” Taylor said. “What we’d like to do is create the avenues for them to make informed choices about their own behaviors because, ultimately, smoking is a very personal choice.”

According to Taylor, the educational measures committee is examining ways to enforce the smoke-free policy. Taylor explained that the committee is recommending educational approaches instead of disciplinary actions, adding that the ban will serve as an opportunity to teach students how to engage in “peaceful conflict resolution.”

“It’s not at all about law and order,” Taylor said. “It really is about education and development and trying to really capture that moment and use it as a way for students to a lot of times engage with one another in holding themselves accountable.”

Taylor added that Department of Public Safety officers will not issue citations to students smoking in the Diag. However, she said there might be consequences for repeat offenders.

LSA senior Michael Rorro, former Michigan Student Assembly vice president, was one of the students who sat on the Student Life Subcommittee and gave input on how to enforce smoking penalties.

Rorro, who is a smoker himself, said committee members agreed that there should be no severe sanctions within the first two years of the initiative. Instead, the University should focus on educating students about the initiative so that there are “no surprises,” he said.

“We wanted to make sure people know what was going on rather than slapping fines on people,” Rorro said. “We didn’t want to see people getting tickets right off the bat.”

To promote education of the smoking ban, Rorro said the committee made recommendations for the University to set up information tables throughout campus as well as send online and print materials to incoming freshmen informing them of the initiative.

While forming recommendations, the committee reviewed policies at other smoke-free Big Ten schools. According to Rorro, committee members liked Purdue University’s “campus concern form,” in which anyone on campus could anonymously fill out a form and share concerns about smoking issues.

LSA senior Chris Chiles, a member on the Student Life Subcommittee who founded the University’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said he thinks building managers will ultimately be in charge of addressing these concerns.

“It would not be right to burden DPS with anything like this,” Chiles said, adding that he thinks the policy is “pretty unenforceable.”

In committee discussions, Chiles said he advocated for the University to keep cigarette containers on campus — saying that removing them would result in unnecessary litter of cigarette butts.

Though Chiles said he doesn’t agree with the idea of a campus-wide smoking ban because it infringes on students’ rights, he said he understands the University’s mindset in wanting to promote a healthier campus.

“My personal view is that (students) should still have the right (to smoke) because they’re not harming anyone else,” he said. “ However, I think the University is trying to create a culture of health and wellness, which is an idea I support.”

While much work still needs to be done to figure out the logistics of implementing the ban and providing students, faculty and staff appropriate health resources, Sevig said he thinks the Smoke-Free University Initiative will benefit the campus community’s knowledge of smoking.

“I think there’s actually a lot of misinformation about smoking, smoking behaviors (and) the effects and consequences, so I think one really cool outcome will be reducing some of the myth and misinformation around it,” he said.