It is not uncommon for Western Michigan University students to be found smoking cigarettes within 25 feet of class buildings.
This may change if a new tobacco-free policy that some WMU students, faculty and university departments are advocating for becomes a reality.
If the tobacco-free policy is implemented at WMU, the university would join just over 1,150 U.S. colleges and universities nationwide that have a 100 percent smoke-free policy and over 700 tobacco-free colleges, as of April 2013, according to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. In Michigan, 22 colleges have tobacco-free policies, including the University of Michigan, Hope College and Muskegon Community College.
At the beginning of May, a survey was sent out to WMU faculty and staff by a committee focused on feedback from current students and the WMU community regarding a tobacco-free campus and tobacco policies and practices at other colleges and universities, especially within Michigan. The committee has four members, including director of the Student Recreation Center Amy Seth and director of health promotion and education at Sindecuse Health Center Cari Robertson.
The survey focused on implementation and enforcement of a tobacco-free policy, according to Seth. Seth distinguished smoke-free from tobacco-free because she said that they are looking into implementing a policy that eliminates all forms of tobacco from campus, not just smoking. The survey included questions about what tobacco products should be allowed on campus, whether or not the current policy should be kept in place and what assistance would be needed to quit tobacco use, according to Seth.
The survey deadline was May 31. A total of 1,499 of 4,000 faculty and staff completed the survey. The data will be reviewed and analyzed in the weeks following the deadline, according to Seth. She said that she expects the committee’s role to come to a close by the end of June, a large part of which is analyzing the data received and addressing issues raised through the survey.
“One of the comments I hear most often is that ‘I agree with the policy, but I don’t think it will be able to be enforced’,” Seth said.
Seth said that this comment is one among many issues that will need to be addressed, but she said the first step is to get the issue out there.
“You don’t want to make people mad but the reality is that we have to talk about it,” Seth said. “I have not been afraid of having difficult conversations and really talk this over. The first part of that was the survey.”
While the survey is a step closer to a campus wide tobacco-free policy, students and university departments have been working toward this policy change for four years, according to health professor, Amos Aduroja.
For four years now the health education department at WMU has been considering and pushing for a tobacco-free campus, and have considered it an issue that students and the WMU community should be educated about, according to Aduroja.
“Education is the thing that we need to start with,” Aduroja said.
In addition to educating students and WMU community members, Aduroja said that the health education department at WMU has followed a sample policy for a implementing a tobacco-free campus policy from the American Cancer Society.
The sample policy from the ACS follows these steps:
- Smoking is prohibited on all college properties, including residence halls.
- The sale of tobacco on campus is prohibited.
- The free distribution of tobacco products on campus, including in fraternities and sororities, is prohibited.
- Campus organizations are prohibited from accepting money or gifts from tobacco companies.
- Tobacco advertisements are prohibited in college-run publications.
- The university will provide free, accessible tobacco treatment on campus—and will publicize its availability.
WMU’s current smoking policy covers the second step (the sale of tobacco on campus is prohibited) but Aduroja said that the other steps need to be addressed in order to create a fully comprehensive tobacco-free policy.
The university’s current smoking policy states that people are not allowed to smoke inside of or within 25 feet of WMU buildings. Adujora said the problem is that these policies are limited to self-policing, and that the smoking still affects the health of the campus despite being further away from buildings.
“It’s like saying you can pee and poo on this side of the pool but not this side. The pee and poo still get into the whole pool,” Aduroja said. “It is the same thing with smoking except that it is traveling in the air.”
Aduroja is the faculty advisor to the Gamma Mu chapter of Eta Sigma Gamma, the campus health honorary honors society, which contains students that gathered and analyzed data from other WMU students on their smoking habits and opinions of smoking.
Among those students was Katelyn Douglas, the current president of ESG. Between Oct. 10-13, Douglas, along with five other students, presented an evaluation project in a presentation at the 86th annual American School Health Association conference in San Antonio. The presentation was titled Breathe Easy Broncos: Tobacco Free Policy Study on WMU Campuses.
From the data that Douglas and other students gathered, 20 percent of students they surveyed had smoked within the past 30 days, but the perception was that 35 percent of the population is smoking, according to Aduroja.
Before policy change can be implemented, Aduroja said that the attitude of smoking on campus needs to be addressed.
In collecting the data, students found that 51 percent of students agree with the current locations of smoking areas. The data also showed that the majority of students believe that the sale of tobacco should be prohibited on campus.
Moving toward a tobacco-free policy on campus, Aduroja said, “It’s one thing to have a [tobacco-free] policy. It’s a totally different thing to make it work.”
To make it work, students, faculty and university departments are devising ways to implement a policy. For example, while the current policy of smoking 25 feet away from buildings is self-policed, students have suggested that as a tobacco-free campus, violations of the policy should be punished through ticketing, according to Aduroja. Aduroja said students have suggested that money be used toward cessation programs.
Adujora said “There is movement on all fronts” toward a tobacco-free campus.
Director of the Student Recreation Center, Amy Seth, said that implementation is really where students will play a big role in a tobacco-free policy. Aduroja said that students educating their peers will play huge part in making a tobacco-free policy successful.
“This is why I let students do [data collection and promotion of a tobacco-free policy]—let them do the right thing,” Aduroja said. “If the students do it, they will influence others to view it as a healthy social norm that will be self-perpetuating. They will influence their peers.”
Both sides of the tobacco-free policy debate
But not everyone is on board with the idea of WMU being a smoke-free campus. Derek Visch, a junior majoring in computer engineering, said that while he is a non-smoker, he hasn’t “had a single problem with smokers.”
“Smoking is completely legal by law, and Western has no right to tell people they cannot smoke on campus. What about the students that live on campus and want to smoke?” Visch said in an e-mail. “You [WMU] are telling them that they are living their life wrongly, and have to change or move out. That is just plain wrong, this is not something a campus should be able to decide.”
However, recent WMU graduate, Ryan Bohac, who now attends Ball State University in Muncie, Ill., which is a smoke-free campus, said that he truly thinks that WMU being smoke-free is the best policy. He said that even prior to attending Ball State, the WMU smoking policy bothered him.
“Outside each door, a sign is placed that says ‘No smoking within this many feet of the door.” Or what? You’re going to get a ticket or a fine? In my four years at WMU, never once did I see some sort of university official ticket the several smokers huddled outside classroom building doors, before or after classes,” Bohac said in an email. “It’s not a pleasant experience to be heading into class, and to get a cloud full of second-hand smoke blown in your face.”
Bohac said that what he likes the most about Ball State is that the university is “so clean” because of the smoking policy.
“While WMU does an incredible job with cleaning up the cigarette butts that smokers leave behind, it’s impossible to get all of them. There are no butts floating around BSU, and no lasting smell of smoke from passing students,” Bohac said.
Seth said that the hope is to have a tobacco-free policy in place and being implemented by Sept. 2014. She said that becoming a tobacco-free campus would not be an overnight change because there are many transitions that would need to be made.
To be implemented, the committee looking into tobacco-free policies on college campuses reports to executive sponsors Provost Tim Greene, Vice President of Student Affairs Diane Anderson and Vice President for Business and Finance Jan Van Der Klay. Seth said that the decision would ultimately go through the Board of Trustees for approval.
On the committee as well is Cari Robertson, director of health promotion and education at Sindecuse Health Center. Robertson said that moving forward Sindecuse Health Center would continue to offer the following services:
- Tobacco cessation services available to support students, faculty, and staff who are interested in reducing tobacco use as the campus transitions to the new policy.
- The “Kick the Nic” program that includes options for nicotine replacement therapy, consultation with a tobacco cessation specialist and referral to other resources, such as free phone/internet quit coaching.
- Licensed pharmacists who are available to address questions regarding nicotine replacement and prescription products to help a person stop using tobacco.
Seth said that this policy being implemented is really at a “stay tuned” stage. She said that she hopes that students become more involved in the implementation of the policy in the future, as well as the Western Student Association