University officials hold first public forum on smoke-free campus initiative

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Freshman Andrew Covert smokes a cigarette in protest outside of Palmer Commons. Buy this photo

Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 12, 2009

University officials held the first public forum last night to discuss the University’s decision to make campus entirely smoke free by July 2011.

Ken Warner, dean of the School of Public Health, told students, faculty and community members that the University will be going “cold turkey” when it comes to smoking on campus.

Warner spoke in Palmer Commons as part of a presentation from the Smoke-Free University Initiative, which aimed to announce formally the University’s plan to ban smoking on campus. According to presenters, this informational session is just the beginning of the “implementation process.”

“Regents are in support of the policy,” Warner said. “We are striving to make sure that all (implementation) subcommittees have smokers and nonsmokers on them.”

“It is not an attempt to ostracize smokers or make them feel bad about themselves,” he added.

The main concern addressed at the session was how this large change in campus policy will be regulated — more specifically, what to be done to people who don't comply with the regulation.

Simone Himbeault Taylor, associate vice president for student affairs, said students who break the rule won’t be punished with tickets, but they’ll be offered cessation workshops instead.

“Our general philosophy isn’t to be punitive but to level educational opportunities,” she said.

Taylor said that this would allow the rule to be enforced while still respecting students’ rights.

“There are choices that students need to make,” she said. “The objective is not to take a law-and-order approach to this. The objective is helping them make thoughtful choices about their own lives.”

Warner said non-compliance won’t be an issue. He cited a recent study, which found that there was a 97-percent compliance rate at four universities where similar initiatives have already been implemented. However, he added that the other 256 colleges where the initiative was implemented haven’t been studied.

Warner said that although the policy has been successful at other universities, the origins of the policy are still unknown.

“The policy was made by the president,” he said. “No one knows how this decision was made.”

Warner added that the goal of the policy is to promote a healthier community.

“Secondhand, smoke-related illness is not the principle issue,” he said.

Laurita Thomas, associate vice president and chief human resources officer, said one of the reasons the University is implementing the policy is to save money on health insurance for faculty.

“We are about creating a culture of health,” she said. “There is a compelling interest of the University community regarding a culture of health and health insurance costs.”

LSA senior Jonathan Slemrod, who was in attendance at the event and is the president of the University’s chapter of College Libertarians, said he believes this policy shows a complete disregard for students’ rights.

“It’s one thing if the University said that there shouldn’t be smoking in high traffic areas, smoking outside doors, but this policy goes way beyond that,” he said. “To completely ban something that’s legal is going way too far in my mind.”

“I’m not a smoker myself, but it’s a violation of my individual rights,” Slemrod added. “There is a reasonable middle ground and some sort of compromise that can be reached.”

Engineering senior Sarah Ledford, who also attended the event, said she is weary of the policy because it could stifule the student body's freedom.

“I don’t like this whole idea that they are coming and intruding into our lives and telling us what we can or can’t do,” said Ledford. “I don’t think they should be dictating what we can do with our own bodies. It’s kind of ridiculous.”

LSA junior Graham Kozak, who attended the event, said he is also anxious about the initiative, especially the fact that Warner said he was unsure of how the decision was made to implement the policy.

“It was kind of bizarre that they didn’t know who originated the policy,” he said.

“Questions should have been addressed with somebody who actually decided on the policy,” Ledford said, referring to Warner’s comment.

Kozak added that the policy strips students of the chance to make individual choices.

“It was all about promoting the culture of health on campus, as opposed to encouraging us to make responsible decisions as adults,” said Kozak. “They need to respect us as adults. We don’t need to be babied by this University.”