by Jack Tuthill
The tobacco-free campus tally is now over 1,175, as UW-River Falls implemented a 100 percent tobacco-free policy on July 1.
Tobacco-free campuses have doubled since the summer of 2011 in the U.S., and are now an extremely hot topic among college students and faculty members. Reality is settling in: smoking bans on college campuses are unavoidable and sweeping the nation.
What once was merely an issue about first, second or third-hand smoke, has now become a debate over the immediate health of college students and faculty.
Campus-led health initiatives are intended not only to keep students fit, but help students kick the addiction. Some universities go as far as offering free nicotine patches.
The UWRF campus website successfully states the University’s goals, “The purposes of this policy are to reduce harm from secondhand smoke, provide an environment that encourages persons to be tobacco-free, establish a campus culture of wellness and environmental responsibility, and promote a tobacco-free future.”
Universities undoubtedly have become community leaders, so UWRF is an institution with an obligation to promote health. Students will remain vulnerable to social and behavioral influences that encourage smoking, but restricting where smoking occurs on campus may diminish initiation and support dissolution.
UWRF innovatively offers cards that students can print and hand to people who are illegally smoking on campus grounds. These cards contain tobacco quit hotlines, the school’s tobacco-free website and campus counseling service information.
Smokers could perceive these cards as a slap in the face or acknowledge that people actually care about their well-being.
Student smokers are the ones who have the most to lose on the issue. Their freedom to use tobacco has been lifted. Smokers are now forced to become the outcasts and rebels on campus. They must walk dozens, sometimes hundreds, of feet in order to find a “safe zone.”
As a consequence of this policy, cigarette butts find homes on lawns, streets, doorsteps, businesses and churchyards.
Standing ashtrays on the edges of campus have become too much to ask for; no smoking, means no smoking. A 100 percent smoking ban has to stand tall, otherwise it is powerless.
A student-led initiative is problematic, but predominantly effective. Realistically, it is a cost-effective solution. The University of Iowa takes a different approach; they fine students $50 for smoking on campus, which can become difficult to enforce on such a large university.
In 2010, a Minnesota Health Education Research study closely examined college students’ reactions to statewide smoke-free policies. The study found that such policies are making smoking less socially acceptable, but 83 percent of students, between the ages 18-25, reported secondhand smoke exposure within a week of the study.
Tobacco is obviously still finding its way into students’ lungs, but universities refuse to contribute to this statistic.
The majority of college students and faculty approve of smoking bans; 66 percent to be exact. Meanwhile, 77 percent of students are bothered by secondhand smoke. The statistics speak loudly.
Furthermore, 63 percent of college students believe smoking bans have a positive impact on their quality of life. Twenty-one percent reported being neutral, and 16 percent believe it has a negative impact.
Little by little, smoking has become banned in bars, restaurants, airplanes, private clubs, bowling alleys, theaters, hotel lobbies, public transportation and universities. This drawn-out adaptation was always unavoidable. The United States government is merely attempting to be reasonable; to extend lives.
Surprisingly, 82 percent of student smokers believe the right to breathe clean air should take priority over the right to smoke. Not surprisingly, 98 percent of non-smokers agreed.
Smoking kills. It took my grandfather in his late-fifties. As a 9-year-old, it was not easy to watch him cough up blood and spend hours weeping as cancer slowly ate his insides. But, it was his choice to smoke two packs daily. I do not blame cigarette companies or commercial advertisements. These are the choices we make in this life.
Secondhand smoke, however, is not a choice and is proven to deteriorate lungs. Everyone, smokers included, have to understand where universities are coming from.
Lives are at stake. Students’ well-being and safety should always be a priority. This ban was a long time coming; times are changing. Smoking bans are simply unavoidable.