A smoking and tobacco products ban went into effect on Oct. 1 at the public colleges and universities of Georgia, including the University of Georgia. Products banned include traditional cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and even tobacco simulates, like e-cigarettes and vaporizers. But with a ban so controversial one may question the spread of a smoke ban to other public universities in other states. Collectively, Slippery Rock University staff and students agreed that overall a smoke ban would be beneficial, but also agreed that a smoke ban would not work on its campus.
“I would hope that that was a community conversation,” SRU President Cheryl Norton said. “That they looked at the pros and cons, the needs of the students, the wants of the students and the community, and their willingness to support a ban because what we don’t want is to be in a situation where we think we understand what our campus community, in terms of this issue, desires. We make a decision and then we find everybody not abiding by it because then you’ve got a policy that you can’t enforce so and the enforcement of this kind of policy really comes because people have chosen not to smoke.”
Norton discussed how a smoke ban went into effect at Pennsylvania State Schools a few years ago when a new chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) came in. She discussed how it didn’t work because it wasn’t being enforced by anybody, mainly because the ban happened too suddenly and didn’t give anybody time to prepare for it.
She said it’s really important that students, faculty, and the community collectively agree on this together because this is the student’s home and it’s hard to tell them what they can and cannot do in their home.
As of now, residence halls are smoke-free, buildings are smoke-free, and smoking within in 25 feet of a building is not permitted. Norton said these regulations are to promote a healthy and safe environment at Slippery Rock University.
She said it is important that students realize the relationship between their choices and their health because health is all about choices.
Norton said there is really no way to tell whether a smoke ban would affect tuition and enrollment or not. She believes there are students who might see a smoke ban as a benefit and attend because of that, but that students could see a ban as a turn off.
Dr. Patrick Harvey, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice and Department Chair as well, said that this ban is not a police matter, but more along the lines of an administrative policy with the university. He said there are other issues for the police to worry about. Harvey said the only way to enforce it is by self-reporting and abiding by the policy.
“It’s my understanding that it would have to be something that would have to be done from an internal office here like I said Student Conflict Resolution Services or maybe even Health Promotion or something like that because it’s not a legal issue, it’s a policy issue and it is administrative,” Harvey said.
Harvey believes Georgia is going to run into issues, as he has read on the subject. He said the law cannot take someone’s right to smoke away, as that smoking is legal and purchasing tobacco products is legal in the United States, but a smoke free environment is the university’s decision.
At SRU, a ban like this has not gathered a lot priority, Harvey said.
He said it needs to be understood that there could not be a criminal offense for being caught with tobacco products on a campus with a smoke ban. He said the university may reprimand the student, suspend the student, or the university could even implement a fine.
He commented on how current SRU students can’t even read the signs and stay 25 feet away from buildings when they smoke. Overall, he believes a smoke ban at Slippery Rock University would be beneficial and healthy, but that it would just not work.
Renee Bateman, coordinator of health promotion, believes a smoke ban is appropriate if given the correct amount of time, but that it has to be enforced in order to work.
She said a very small percentage of SRU staff and students choose to smoke. Bateman said only 6 percent of SRU staff smoke.
“So for cigarettes, the students that self-reported, 72 percent said they have never used a cigarette, 14 percent have used in the last 30 days, 6 percent used in one to nine days, 2 percent was in 10 to 29 days,” Bateman said. “The only percent who used all 30 days where I would say they’re probably your consistent smokers is 3.6 percent. So I would say you’re seeing two things, 3.6 percent is probably our regular smokers and then the people who use in the last 30 days somewhere along those lines are probably people who were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs and happened to have a cigarette.”
She believes that tobacco is declining in popularity due to the introduction of e-cigarettes and the increasing use of marijuana among students. According to statistics that Bateman provided, 7.3 percent of SRU have smoked marijuana in the past one to nine days and 6.5 percent of SRU students have smoked cigarettes in the past one to nine days. She believes these statistics show the popularity of marijuana among students.
Also, Bateman said there is not much scientific and health research done on e-cigarettes, so nobody really knows what they are.
She said some alternatives, less popular alternatives to smoking are nicotine patches and nicotine gum.
Danielle Graham, 21, health promotion graduate assistant and a student working on a masters in school counseling, believes there are plenty of other issues for the university to worry about than just banning smoking all together.
Graham said she wasn’t even aware that a smoke ban went into effect on SRU’s campus in the past.
“I didn’t notice how big e-cigarettes were getting until we learned about them this fall,” Graham said. “It’s interesting how there’s no rules or regulations about it yet, so it’s kind of just interesting to see how that’s going with e-cigarettes so far.”
She said the university could enforce the designated smoking areas a little bit better, but that at the end of the day, students are still going to find a way to smoke because a ban makes the action a little bit more desirable. She believes students would find a way regardless of smoking being banned.
Alexa Merbler is a 19-year-old political science major and a nonsmoker. She believes a smoke ban could be a positive thing, but that ultimately if someone wants to smoke, they are going to smoke.
“Generally, it doesn’t affect me, but when all the smokers gather around the doors, I feel like I’m walking through a smokey jungle,” Merbler said.
She said when she was looking for a college, a smoke free campus was not something that she was looking for. She said it would have been cool and beneficial to her health-wise, but that there are more important things that she was looking for in a college campus.
Phillip Bova is a 20-year-old English creative writing major and a smoker who does not believe in smoking bans.
“If SRU enforced a smoke ban, I don’t know what I would do,” Bova said. “I have high anxiety and smoking calms me down. Also it helps me concentrate and stay focused after long hours of studying.”
He said a college with a smoke ban would not even interest him at all. He said smoking is a part of who he is, but it does not define him. Bova said smokers have rights and the university can’t just take those rights away from smokers.”
“Also as a side note, smoking is how I made many of my friends freshman year,” Bova said. “It’s a social thing!”