UMass Faculty Senate passes campus tobacco ban

By William Perkins


Members of the University of Massachusetts Faculty Senate yesterday passed a proposition that aims to ban the use of all tobacco products on campus beginning in 2013.

The Senate approved of the proposal in a 14-7 vote, after several students spoke against it and some faculty members spoke in favor of it.

The policy – which won’t go into effect until July 1, 2013 – was brought forward to the Senate by the University Health Council. It calls for the prohibition of all tobacco products on University property. In addition, it bars tobacco use in any vehicles on school property, and also prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes.

Sen. Tobias Baskin, a professor of biology who serves as the chairman of the Health Council, said at the onset of discussions on the matter at yesterday’s meeting that statistics show tobacco use is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans each year, and that similar propositions have worked at many colleges across the country.

“It is reliably estimated that in America last year tobacco use killed more than 400,000 people,” Baskin said, adding that use of such products can make people susceptible to diseases and can lead to economic hardships.

Baskin also said studies show that students enrolled at tobacco-free universities are less likely to become smokers.

There’s enough history with tobacco-free campuses that there [is] actually data,” he said. The proposal cites the Universities of Florida, Oregon and Michigan, as well as the UMass Medical School in Worcester as campuses with similar tobacco-free policies.

Additionally, Baskin noted thatthe purpose of the policy is educational, not punitive.”

Baskin added later on during the discussions that the new policy will mostly be enforced on a voluntary basis. He likened it to when signs went up at the UMass Recreation Center instructing students not to dispose of gum in drinking fountains – which, he said, significantly decreased the practice.

“Mostly, people will comply voluntarily,” Baskin said, adding that it’s his understanding that 95 percent of people on campuses already with a tobacco-free policy voluntarily comply with regulations.

In addition to Baskin, Sen. Richard Bogartz, a professor of psychology, also spoke in favor of the ban. He said that he often feels “attacked” by cigarette smoke on campus, and that he thinks a state law that requires smokers to be at least 20 feet away from a building is often violated.

And Wilmore Webley, a professor of biology who has been spearheading many of the efforts behind the proposal, noted during the meeting that it’s hard to enforce rules that require smokers to be a certain distance from a structure. He also said that second-hand smoke affects many in the country.

Second-hand smoke kills more Americans in any year than guns,” Webley said.

He added that the he feels a tobacco-free policy is “preserving everyone’s right,” noting that it doesn’t necessarily force smokers to quit because they can continue to smoke off-campus.

However, many students expressed their opposition to the proposal during the meeting, noting that it would be unrealistic to have all smokers go off-campus to smoke, and that they feel the policy infringes upon their rights.

Nathan Lamb, a political science major who also serves as a senator in the Student Government Association, said he feels parts of the policy entrench on individuals’ rights. He said that people should be allowed to smoke in their own cars when on campus – because it’s not affecting anyone else. He added that rather than issuing an ultimatum of sorts, the University should plan to work with students on such an initiative.

Ben Taylor, who is also a political science major, said that he doesn’t feel that instituting a prohibition policy will be very effective.

We have found as a country that prohibition doesn’t work,” Taylor said, noting that it didn’t work with alcohol and that he doesn’t think it works with marijuana.

Taylor added that he doesn’t think the resolution will be enforceable. He also said that the policy would be unfair for UMass employees – who, like all students and guests on campus, would not be permitted to smoke on University property.

George Williams – a freshman English major who said he grew up under tough circumstances and smoked in middle school, but no longer smokes – told Senate members that sometimes when he was younger cigarettes were the only thing that got him through the day.

The only thing that really kept me from killing myself was cigarettes,” said Williams, who noted that he is not in that condition anymore. “I know I really should have done something else, but I didn’t have the option.”

You’re [going to] have deaths” with the policy, Williams added.

Other students – some of whom brought protest signs to the meeting – noted that such a policy could affect the University’s enrollment, that it oversteps regulatory lines and that it will force more people to smoke in hiding. Some students also vocally expressed their disapproval of some statements that were made during the meeting.

Sen. Norman Sims, a professor of journalism, brought forward a motion to have the Senate’s Program and Budget Council look at the proposal before going forward. That motion ultimately failed.

Besides gaining the approval of the Health Council, the proposition also got the go-ahead from the UMass Campus Leadership Council – which is composed of members of the administration – before being approved yesterday.

Additionally, the approved smoking ban proposal calls for the creation of a Tobacco-Free Campus Committee, which will be made up of members from the student and faculty body and will be charged with carrying out most of the implementation of the policy.

Secretary of the Senate Ernie May, who also served on the Health Council, said that members will be willing to meet with representatives from the Student Government Association to go over any concerns.

Faculty Senate Presiding Officer W. Brian O’Connor also noted that there are still two years until the policy goes into effect – which, he said, will allow for most people to have their say in the matter.

We’ve got two years to work on this,” he said. “I’m convinced everyone will have their say.”

William Perkins can be reached at [email protected]