A University of Massachusetts Faculty Senate proposal that would ban the use of tobacco products on campus will be voted on this afternoon, but several students say that their ardent feelings on cigarettes won’t be quenched so easily.
Last night, a motion recommending that Chancellor Robert Holub not enforce the faculty policy until the Student Government Association and Graduate Student Senate endorse it, “passed overwhelmingly,” according to commuter Sen. Dan Stratford.
The Faculty Senate proposal, called “A Tobacco-Free UMass Amherst: Policy and Implementation Plan” which was proposed by microbiology Professor Wilmore Webley, would ban tobacco use entirely effective July 1, 2013.
“For the purpose of this policy, ‘tobacco’ refers to any and all tobacco products, whether inhaled or ingested, as well as electronic cigarettes,” the policy declared. The policy would cover the entire campus, including vehicles, parking lots and any land owned by the University.
Mitch Fleischman, a junior political science major created a Facebook event called “Prevent banning smoking on campus at UMass” soon after learning about the proposed ban. As of 6:30 p.m. yesterday almost 300 people had added their support.
“I oppose it because it’s not an issue of smoking than it is people sitting around who don’t know me, who aren’t familiar with me in any way making a decision for me; people deliberating in some sort of bureaucratic process that essentially infringes upon my rights,” said Fleischman.
Webley disagreed with Fleischman’s sentiment.
“No rights are being violated,” he said. “There are no federal or state laws saying you have a right to smoke.”
“If someone lights a cigarette in Somalia eventually I’ll feel those effects,” Fleischman said. “The carbon dioxide and chemicals will eventually circulate the globe because of wind patterns. Second-hand smoke is something I’ve also heard about and I won’t dispute the results or evidence of the effects of second-hand smoke on people inside; or where the parents smoke and the kids eventually get lung cancer because of it – I don’t dispute that, either. But that’s inside a building, where smoking is already banned in Massachusetts. But outside is a different thing.”
According to a 2006 United States Surgeon General’s report called “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke,” which Webley cited, about 49,000 deaths occurred in 2005 because of second-hand smoke.
“This policy needs to be adopted,” Webley said. “Ninety percent of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking and one tenth of the adult population globally has a smoking related disease.”
“If someone wants to go chew tobacco and get mouth cancer, it’s not my problem” Fleischman said. “That’s their own prerogative.
“They could have been more open about it,” Fleischman continued. “I went to the UMass Faculty Senate’s website and they don’t even list the bill that they’re voting on in its entirety … There’s nothing listed on the Faculty Senate’s website, no documents. There’s something very similar to it that has to do with something similar proposed for 2003–2004, I think.”
“The Health Council is not in the shadows,” Webley said. “Some people are activists. They jump on it and don’t do their due diligence.”
“There are students on the Health Council,” said Ernie May, a music professor and secretary of the Faculty Senate. “There are representatives from all the campus unions.”
“We actually knew about the proposal in its infant stages for a couple of weeks,” Stratford said yesterday evening. “But it was only after the Faculty Senate Health Council passed it overwhelmingly that [the SGA] decided to do something about it. It’s only really coming to a head tonight.”
“We have publicized it – in the agendas of the meetings of the Health Council and press releases,” May said of the proposal. “[The meetings] are open. They’re not conducted in secret. If no one pays attention then [the issues] won’t be publicized. I think we provide adequate publicity.”
“That’s the thing,” Stratford said. “As with many legislatures and committees, motions may arise within a certain committee, but that doesn’t mean it’s even going to pass the committee, never mind get a full vote. However, we also have to take into account that the SGA, which may be, in many ways, pervasive, is not omnipotent. It can’t dispense information to and fro extensively and also, like I said, this came to a head today. I don’t think many students are aware of this just by virtue of how arcane this was in its origins. Issues such as this are quick to flare up and they may die just as quickly.”
On the Faculty Senate website, the listings for the pages of its various councils are on the far-right side and the Health Council’s minutes haven’t been updated since 2009, although the membership has changed since then and it has met twice this semester.
“With any survey the real proof of it is with the pudding, so to speak, with regards to who you survey,” Stratford said. “At the same time if you look at the ads on buses they say, I think, some exuberant amount – close to 80 percent of students support police breaking up rowdy parties and that two thirds of students do not drink on campus. I would venture a guess to say that those are, in a way, inflated.”
Yevin Roh, the new SGA president and a former member of the Health Council, said that the tobacco ban policy was influenced by the result of a social norms survey done by the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High Risk Drinking, which also did the surveys Stratford referenced. According to Roh, 56 percent of responders answered “Yes” to the question “Would you support UMass becoming tobacco free?”
He added that the survey was sent to about 2,000 students selected in a random sample and a statistically significant number of people responded.
“Not that I’m questioning the integrity of President Roh,” Stratford said. “I’m just questioning the enthusiasm that many students may have for this.”
Webley said that about 83 percent of college students do not smoke and that 90 percent of smokers started before they were 18. He said he was always surprised that people under 18 could get access to tobacco products.
“We wanted to be more educational,” Webley, adding that the policy proposes no fines for violators, unlike other schools.
“I’m sure the administration, if [they] adopted [the policy], could find creative ways to enforce it,” Stratford said.
The policy proposal calls for the creation of a “Tobacco-free Campus Committee” with members appointed by the chancellor with the advice of the Health Council.
“This committee will include representatives of students, staff, faculty and administrators,” the policy reads. The committee will be given the responsibility of holding public meetings and provide support for people who want to stop smoking.
“I’m concerned about people who want to quit smoking,” Webley said. “People aren’t aware of how addictive cigarette smoking is. It’s a matter of underestimating how clever tobacco companies are.”
“I have serious doubts as to whether the tobacco-free policy can be enforced in a manner that’s both fair and effective,” Stratford said. “One of the key components of the smoke-free policy is a self-policing aspect, the efficacy of which I strongly doubt.”
Fleischman said he hadn’t thought about what action he planned to organize to oppose the ban.
“There’s a magazine called, I think it’s ‘The Libertarian,’ and they might actually help organize a ‘smoke-in’ where in a place where there’s going to be a ban on smoking potentially, they bring in a bunch of smokers and they smoke on the premises.”
“The Health Council has been at the forefront of policies that protect UMass students,” Webley said.
The Faculty Senate meets today at 3:30 p.m. in Herter 227.
Matthew M. Robare can be reached at email@example.com.