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Consultant Meets Students and Staff about Tobacco Use Ban

Dallas Steffen | Staff Writer | 03/30/2011

Ty Patterson, Co-Director of the National Center for Tobacco Policy (NCTP), consulted students, staff, and community members March 22 and 23 about the changes being made to BSU’s tobacco policy.

These changes will be enacted in two phases. The first phase, on April 1, which will introduce the campus to the ban but not punish violators of the smoking policy. Phase two, which begins fall semester 2011, will ban any recreational use of any tobacco substance on campus grounds.

The NCTP educates organizations, such as colleges, on how to sustain, instate and develop a tobacco-free area.  Patterson helped make the Ozarks Technical Community College of Missouri to become one of the first colleges to institute a tobacco free policy in 2003, as the Vice President of Student Affairs.  He started helping other institutions in 2004 and retired in

2008, working part-time to help organizations implement their own tobacco-free policies by consulting community leaders and members.

Patterson shared his experience in making Ozarks a tobacco free campus.

“By the time the smoking plan was in effect,” he said, “despite people threatening to resign or leave, it went smoothly and well thanks to the amount of education given to teach students about the policy and desire for co-operation.”

When asked whether BSU was moving too quickly to start the policy, Patterson said, “I’ve worked with people that have worked more quickly.  BSU won’t be one of the first colleges to adopt this policy.  It’s not really a matter of how much time you have, but it’s how you use the time that is extremely important.”

He later said it would be soon to start the ban in April, because “students signed contracts that didn’t include the tobacco-free policy.”

He also stressed the importance of students and faculty members accepting the policy. “It takes an entire campus to make it work.  It can’t be done without the people,” said Patterson.

To help enforce the new policy, a “Tobacco Complaint/Grievance” form will be available for students and faculty to submit if they want to report someone who repeatedly violates the policy. Ashley Tenney, Student Association Co-President, explained that th

e form is still being revised.

“[The form] will be on the website and a person will receive it through email,” said Tenney, “but we plan to put it in an office too.  We’re still working out the kinks.  Many campuses don’t use that form.”

Tenney said that some colleges do not use fines, and explained that “the Student [Association] decided not to go that way, because we don’t want to be harsh on students. We don’t want to use fines because we feel they aren’t the best way with this.”

While a punishment for repeat offenders is not official, Tenney said, “If there are a lot of complaints, it would be sent to their supervisor if the person is a faculty member and for students, it would go to a conduct officer.”

Tenney shared the results given to her by other colleges, saying she received an email from the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) who, in 2009, went to a smoke-free policy.

“[UMD] said there are people who aren’t going t

o follow [the policy], but they said as the years go on, the campus culture changes,” said Tenney.  “This is the same with other smoke-free campuses I have talked to.”

When asked if any institutions that he consulted had their new tobacco policy fail, Patterson said, “I knew one institution that charged ahead and just thought it was the right thing to do.”

He explained that the institution, which he wanted to keep anonymous, gave students only “one month to students to learn and accept the policy.  Immediately, there were students that wanted to talk about the Clean Indoor Act and if the smell of fast food and car exhaust were in violation of the new policies.  The students did not have enough time to learn about the policy.”

The college had to educate its students about the ban that was already in place.  “The policies started to work after that but not as well as they could have,” said Patterson.

The Minnesota Clean Indoor Act prohibits any smoking in a public place which would include the campus.

Some people, however, are concerned that some students would walk to neighboring sidewalks to use tobacco.

“We don’t want to drive people onto another property,” said Patterson.  “We need to be prepared and educate people that it is not respectful, and talk to the community around the campus and ask them to report students who are smoking and leaving butts.   We need to ask smokers to respect the policy.”

Patterson emphasized that the main reason of instituting the policy is “out of the respect of others who don’t smoke.”  Students that smoke or use tobacco, however, do not feel respected.

Jonathan Lossing, a psychology major and Minnesota National Guard member, felt targeted. “It’s my choice,” he said.  “I want them to understand it affects someone like me who might be going to Afghanistan in a few months.”

When asked what the reaction to the ban might be once it starts, Lossing said, “You will get a mob of angry students.”

Other students like Breanne Allen, a freshman majoring in art education who smokes, agreed. “I think it will cause an uproar, especially with all that’s going on like the budget cuts,” she said.

Even though some students are upset about the ban, a BSU survey shows that most students will accept a campus-wide tobacco ban.  According to a study conducted by the Student Association last February, nearly 62 percent of those surveyed agree it is “okay for campuses to prohibit smoking.”

Laura Williams, a student majoring in biology, said, “I hate hitting that wall of smoke right before you get into one of the buildings. I see only benefits. I think the only drawbacks will be for smokers themselves.”

Williams is not the only one who believes smoke outside hall entrances is a problem.  The survey by Student Association shows that 78 percent of the students surveyed believe cigarette smoke in front of doors is a problem as well.

A common complaint of smokers with the policy is that it bans smoking across the entire campus, instead of allowing for designated smoking areas.  On the “Tobacco Free BSU” web page, it explains that the current smoking policy “bans smoking within 15 feet of buildings, and the policy has not been successful.”  The page also explains that a smoking area “does not support BSU’s goal of creating a healthy, clean and safe environment for everyone.”

Lossing, however, explained that some smokers respect the policy, but when it rains smokers “need to huddle under the awnings by the building, but that is within 15 feet of the buildings.”

Lossing believes he could provide a different solution to the issue.  “Why can’t they put in a gazebo where smokers can smoke that’s away from the buildings?” he said.

Like many smokers, Lossing feels he will be defiant against the smoking ban. “Come next semester, when they set up signs, I will be walking around and having a smoke,” said Lossing.

Danny Polachek, a student who hasn’t smoked a cigarette in six months, believes students will ignore the ban as well.

“Having been a smoker, I think if students want to smoke, they are going to smoke,” said Polachek.  “They will smoke where ever they want.”

Aside from being skeptical, some students are questioning why smokeless tobacco is also prohibited. Tenney explained that smokeless tobacco “can produce waste also like cigarette butts and bottles of chew spit.  The maintenance could use their time better than just cleaning the cigarette butts and snuff containers.”

She also said that it “still affects the individual and we want a healthy campus community, so we want to try to promote that.”

While some students who use tobacco feel they are being targeted and cannot change the ban, Patterson believes they can have an influence on the policies.

“It takes discussions and requires a student or staff member to be ready, but it can happen,” said Patterson.  “The policies are organic and evolving.  Smokers have an influence on them.  They can impact issues and even change the policy if enough people fight to have it changed.  It may happen.  You just don’t know.”