Ready or not, University ban of on-campus tobacco use approaches

By Brian Bevilacqua

Collegian File Photo

The act of lighting up a cigarette or using tobacco on campus will soon be snuffed.

Effective July 1, a University of Massachusetts policy will ban the use of all tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco as well as electronic cigarettes. Smoking inside personal vehicles on campus will also be forbidden, even if the vehicle’s windows are closed. Currently, smoking is allowed anywhere on campus so long as it is done 20 feet away from any building.

The UMass community was recently reminded of the policy change via an email sent two weeks ago by Susan Pearson, associate chancellor and member of the Tobacco-Free Policy Implementation Committee. The email states that UMass “joins more than 700 colleges and universities around the country that have taken this step in order to protect the health of members of the campus community.”

The ban was passed April 7, 2011, by members of the Faculty Senate following a recommendation by the University Health Council, spearheaded by UMass microbiology professor Wilmore Webley. The Senate voted 14-7 in favor of the ban after several students – both smokers and non-smokers – spoke out against the policy change.

“Since 1984, there have been probably about 10 surgeon general reports that have come out talking about the ill effects of tobacco smoke, and for all of those bans they have consistently said that second-hand smoke is dangerous to health,” Webley said. Webley teaches the popular general education “Biology of Cancer and Aids” course.

Many students still have reservations about the change, such as freshman philosophy major Nick Vitulli.

“When I first heard about (the tobacco ban) I thought they were joking because it seems pretty widespread, the number of people who smoke on campus,” Vitulli said. “I do not think it should be an issue of whether it is good or bad for you, it is your right to smoke outside.”

Samuel Gless,  a freshman chemical engineering major, added: “I believe the University has the right idea.” However, he said he believes “there are a lot of other sides to it” and that “if (smokers) kept the 20 feet rule and put smokers poles around, people will follow that.”

Some have also expressed concerns about workers who maintain the University.

“I think the worst thing about the ban is the effect it is going to have on the DC workers,” said Cameron Stinemack, a freshman psychology major. “I see them out there every day having a cigarette on their break and I think they deserve that. I feel like they work long hours and it is not right to take that away from them.”

Webley, however, said “there is no right that is being violated. We’re not saying that people can’t smoke. All we’re saying is that you’re not allowed to smoke on this campus.” He added that the policy “doesn’t force you” to quit smoking.

Many University officials remain confident that the campus will benefit from the move.

Student Government Association President Akshay Kapoor spoke in favor of the policy change.

“I am overall in favor of the change,” Kapoor said. “In everything we do, the primary concern is safety and health and that’s why it was adopted. It is a very progressive approach and a real good thing for the campus.”

Kapoor went on to explain that he is in support of the ban because “we all share the air quality, and no one follows the 20 foot rule,” adding that “the entire state is moving in this direction and we are just following the trend.” He cited Hadley’s Hampshire Mall going smoke-free last year as an example.

According to Kapoor, the changes on campus will not be directly enforced on students, but rather the school will look to create a “culture shift” on campus that will eventually lead to students frowning upon smoking on campus and comply with the changes voluntarily. The policy change is to be put into effect by the Tobacco-Free Policy Implementation Committee.

According to Chris Pearson, a graduate student and member of the committee, discussions on how similar policies are implemented at other schools as well as the feasibility of certain methods, will be discussed over the course of several meetings. The committee will not be in charge of policy enforcement, rather “enforcement of the policy will be the responsibility of immediate supervisors and ultimately University Human Resources; for students, the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs,” according to the official policy.

The policy, which will mostly be enforced on a voluntary basis, also states that enforcement will also “rely on the cooperation of all contractors, faculty, staff, and students not only to comply with the policy, but to encourage others to comply.”

“The policy was adopted because tobacco use has such well-established and severe deleterious effects on the health of our students, faculty and staff that we believe it would be irresponsible to continue permitting its use anywhere on campus,” Pearson said in an interview.

University Health Services will be offering assistance and resources to students, faculty and staff who will be attempting to quit their tobacco use. Whether the student body will be able or willing to voluntarily stop its tobacco use will be seen when students return next school year.

Brian Bevilacqua can be reached at [email protected]