BY NICOLE ABER
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 20, 2009
All three University campuses will be smoke free when a new policy announced by University administrators yesterday takes effect on July 1, 2011.
The initiative is meant to reduce the health risks associated with secondhand smoke and reduce health costs associated with smoking.
“A healthier, smoke-free physical environment will only enhance the intellectual vigor of our campuses,” University President Mary Sue Coleman wrote in an campus-wide e-mail yesterday. “Our decision to become smoke-free aligns perfectly with the goals of MHealthy to improve the health of our community.”
University Chief Health Officer Robert Winfield and School of Public Health Dean Kenneth Warner will co-chair the Smoke Free University Steering Committee, which is charged with creating a dialogue on campus about the policy in order to get input from students, faculty and staff.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Winfield said the policy is aimed at reducing secondhand smoke around campus in order to improve the overall health of the University community.
“Certainly irritation of secondhand smoke is an issue and what’s also important is doing the right thing for the health of the community,” Winfield said.
According to Winfield, another major reason for implementing the policy is to decrease the cost of health care for University faculty and staff. Within five years of implementing such a policy, Winfield said health care costs usually start to decline.
“We learned that the health care costs are at least $2,000 more per year for people who smoke than for nonsmokers,” he added.
According to a press release on the policy, about 14 percent of University employees are smokers. A 2006 survey found that about 16 percent of University students smoke one or more cigarettes a month, according to Winfield.
There will be five subcommittees — one each for students, community relations, faculty and staff, communications and grounds and facilities — working to create the best way to implement the policy, Winfield said.
In order to help smokers transition into a community with this new policy, the University will offer free behavioral counseling and discounts on over-the-counter smoking cessation products for students, faculty and staff. University employees will also have reduced co-pays on prescription cessation products, Winfield said.
In the fall of 2010, Winfield said the committee will bring the proposed policy before University administrators for an official review.
But until that point, Winfield said there are still several questions as to how the policy will be implemented to create a smooth transition for all members of the University community. Because this plan is still in the developmental stages, Winfield said it is important to get input from many different groups on campus, as well as from other private companies that neighbor University property.
“What we want to do is hear from people about how we can get from here to our goal, and what that goal will look like in terms of impact on people,” Winfield said.
Winfield brought up various challenges that may arise with the implementation of such a policy, including how to deal with smoking at football game tailgates, near performing arts centers and on the University golf course, in which guests of the University are often present.
Winfield discussed the policy with members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs at its meeting yesterday, and said another concern is how to handle potential apprehensions of international students who may come from countries in which smoking is an intricate part of their culture or national tradition.
The University’s Department of Public Safety will not give out tickets for violations of the policy, Winfield said, but specific repercussions for disobeying the policy are being discussed. There will also be changes made to the Statement of the Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook to reflect the new policy, he said.
Winfield said he expects there will be some dissent regarding the policy, but that in two years time, most of the dialogue will be exhausted.
“I think most smokers understand that over the years their behavior is not conducive to nonsmokers, and I suspect that those smokers have come to grips with this to some degree,” he said.
Similar policies have already been implemented on more than 260 college campuses across the country, including the University of California at San Francisco, Indiana University and the University of Iowa, according to the press release.
Karen Whitney, chair of the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis Smoking Policy, said the tobacco-free policy was well received by members of the university community when it was implemented in August 2006.
Whitney, IUPUI’s dean of students, said the smoke-free policy’s compliance with the university’s mission as a health and life sciences campus has allowed the university to be highly successful in its implementation of the regulation.
“It has significantly reduced smoking on university property,” Whitney said. “It has changed and reformed the campus. It is now considered unacceptable to smoke on campus.”
Whitney said while the policy has improved the air quality on campus, there is no evidence that it has reduced the cost of health care for its faculty and staff.
But smoke-free policies are not welcomed by all, including George Koodray, New Jersey state coordinator for The Smoker’s Club of the Citizens Freedom Alliance.
Koodray said banning smoking on college campuses is part of a growing trend to punish people for non-obtrusive, legal behavior.
“We don’t understand why in America the law should penalize people for a practice that’s not offensive to anyone,” Koodray said. “This kind of a ban on the consumption of a legal product doesn’t have adverse affects on anyone. We just can’t understand where this policy is coming from.”
Koodray said everyone, including nonsmokers should be worried about the implementation of this policy, as it could lead to bans on other legal substances.
“A lot of people may not object to this kind of policy because they don’t smoke,” Koodray said. “But down the road, it’s a slippery slope, where we see this taking form to other prohibitions in the future that people don’t approve of but are completely legal.”
Engineering freshman Chris Pike, a smoker, said although he thinks the University shouldn’t be able to conduct students’ personal behavior, it is still a good thing they are trying to implement.
“I guess they can tell us what to do; it’s a public university,” Pike said. “But we pay to go here. They should be giving us some freedoms.”