Do students really support a smoke-free campus?

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

In 2011, Keenan Kassar and Hannah Ehrenberg were the first to light up the conversation about and pursue the idea of a smoke-free campus. But now, nearly two years later, this idea is about to become reality. And not without doubts.

Just as no policy is perfect, neither is the campus smoking ban. While a smoke-free campus will affect all on University-owned property, it disproportionately will impact the lives of the people who live and work on campus, University students and employees.

Yesterday, you read our overview of what will happen when our campus goes smoke free. Today, we express our comments and concerns.

Enforcement boundaries

One of the complications of the smoking ban is that it bans smoking, indoors and outdoors, on all campus-owned property, but obviously has no effect on local laws applicable to Champaign or Urbana. For individual smokers it can be tricky to figure out where the University ends and “freedom” begins.

The University has stated it will be making an online map of campus boundaries, available by the end of this semester. But it has yet to do so just two weeks before students leave for winter break.

We don’t think they should be putting this on hold, because all individuals affected by the smoking ban, especially those that do not intend to quit, should be made aware of what options are available to them sooner than later.

Enforcement penalties

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nicotine may be as addictive as heroin, cocaine and alcohol. Nicotine addiction is a disease. The University does not seem to treat it as such.

As the University moves forward with the implementation of this ban, it needs to keep this squarely in mind when creating enforcement measures. The University has mentioned it will consider the idea of issuing tickets and fines for violations once the policy is reevaluated after three months, approaches we strongly disagree with.

The University should treat its enforcement of this ban, especially toward its own students and employees who will likely be most affected by enforcement, via means of education and motivations to quit smoking, not punishment, if tickets and fines are the decided enforcement strategy after the first three months.

Compassion and edification toward individuals with dependencies will have much more of an effective impact than penalizing ever will.

The enforcers

Enforcement duties will be handled by 20-50 student ambassadors. Student ambassadors will be tasked with approaching smokers prior to the ban as well as responding to violations via an online reporting mechanism once the ban goes into place.

While we welcome the inclusion of students in the enforcement process, we have doubts that students without any legal authority will be effective enforcers. The University has not provided much in the way of specifics on how these student ambassadors will respond to reported violations.

Cultural considerations

The University also needs to make sure it accounts for the cultural differences on this campus to ensure the full effects of a smoke-free campus are made known. There are inevitably some cultures in which smoking is even more widespread or acceptable than the U.S.

For example, according to the World Health Organization, China accounts for nearly one-third of the world’s smokers. Chinese international students also happen to make up more than 10 percent of the student population on this campus.

The University needs to make sure all demographics of students have a fair say, and full awareness, in how this ban is implemented if they want to ensure some semblance of compliance.

Resources for going smoke-free

There are a variety of medications smokers on campus can turn to if they wish to quit prior to the ban, such as Zyban, Nicorette and transdermal Nicotine patches. Importantly, many of these options are available through the McKinley Health Center along with counseling targeted at helping individuals quit.

Other campus units that will start selling some of these products after Jan. 1 include the Illini Union, Activities and Recreation Center and Student Dining and Residential Programs. That said, most of these offered medications still cost money to obtain, and some, such as the nicotine patches, are sold at market rates to students. We think if the University wants to get serious about going smoke free, it needs to strongly consider providing all cessation products at no cost to students and employees, at the very least for the Spring 2014 semester.

The University also should make information about non-University programs that may offer cost-free alternatives widely available. Students live on tight budgets, and tuition isn’t going down anytime soon, even those interested in quitting might be turned off by the price of doing so.

As Jan. 1 approaches, we have to wonder how much student support is pushing this policy forward. The 2011 referendum, which depicted 70 percent of voting students’ support for a smoke-free campus, is only representative of whether students would be initially open to the idea. While the 2012 survey by the Smoke-Free Ad Hoc Committee, which depicted 50 percent of students among the 10 percent who responded to be in favor of a smoke-free campus, is not even close to being representative of the entire student population.

Which leaves us with one question: Is this really what students want?

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Hannah Ehrenberg in September 2011 began the idea for a smoke-free campus. Both Keenan Kassar and Hannah Ehrenberg initiated the conversation for a smoke-free campus. The Daily Illini regrets the error.