Campus smoking rate on the decline

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By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily News Editor
Published May 8, 2013

A survey conducted to gauge the success of the University’s smoking ban two years after its implementation shows promising results for those favoring a smoke-free campus.

According to the survey — which was completed by 2,022 students and 2,405 faculty and staff — 82.7 percent of students and 88.8 percent of faculty and staff said they supported the existence of the smoke-free campus policy. Additionally, 72 percent of faculty and 65 percent of students reported that they noticed a decrease in smoking on campus since the policy's implementation.

Prior to the smoking ban in 2011, the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center performed a Student Life Survey to gain information on student and faculty smoking habits. According to a follow-up survey performed in November, the percentage of faculty and staff who self-reported smoking decreased from 6 percent in the 2011 survey to 4 percent.

The decision to implement a smoke-free initiative on campus was made by Dr. Robert Winfield, University chief health officer and director of University Health Services, along with other executive health officers.

“The goal of a smoke-free campus is to create a healthier campus that sets a good example for students passing through, and promotes health and wellness for them in the future,” Winfield said.

He said in the past, smoking hotspots included the benches around the Diag, the side entrance of the Union and the libraries on North Campus and Central Campus. He said there's been a “95 percent” decrease in activity around these areas since the ban went into effect.

In the year and a half prior to the implementation of the initiative, surveys and focus groups identified how people felt about smoking in general and how frequently people smoked on campus.

“We wanted to identify what kinds of issues were really most important to the campus, including faculty, staff and students,” Winfield said.

The fact that the ban uses social norms and pressure rather than legal measures to enforce the rules was an important decision for Winfield and the creators of the smoke-free initiative.

“This is really about wellness,” he said.

Violating the regulations of the smoke-free initiative is a violation of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities. A student who breaks the rules and is reported by another student or staff member must report to the Office of Student Conflict Resolution.

The ban has remained a controversial issue since its inception, hailed by some opponents as an infringement on personal freedom. Among other problems, an opinion article in The Michigan Daily from March said a smoke-free campus that takes away ashtrays for smokers to use leads to an increase in littering. That said, there are some designated ashtrays around campus.

Another issue commonly reported is uncertainty about the boundaries of the ban. Though Winfield said the ban has been largely successful, there have been a handful of people who take advantage of the relatively lax rules.

Rather than turn to law enforcement, Winfield would prefer to solve the issue more amicably.

“Some are angry about the rules, defiant, not aware or don’t care and are taking advantage of the fact that we’re using lightweight enforcement,” he said. “My first preference is to improve signage and advertising.”

Lena Gray, the smoke-free environment project coordinator for Michigan Healthy Community, said in a press release that smoking is still an issue on Central Campus.

“We are pursuing other approaches such as adding signage and sidewalk chalk messages, to remind everyone that those areas are smoke-free,” Gray said.

University President Mary Sue Coleman convened a Smoke-Free Advisory Committee at the inception of the ban that meets regularly to address issues such as littering and boundary recognition.

There are currently 1,159 completely smoke free campuses — including the University — across the U.S., according to a report from the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. The University’s ban includes all buildings, residential facilities and outdoor areas.

Daily Staff Reporter Ariana Assaf contributed reporting.