Tobacco: let’s clear the air, indeed.

Tobacco: let’s clear the air, indeed.

By Cameron Smith

(Collegian file photo)

Plastered across campus is the graphic reminding us that the University of Massachusetts is a tobacco-free campus. The image of white clouds behind the slogan, “Let’s clear the air,” gave me the impression that I was going to be living in a smoke-free environment. To my surprise, I have been met with secondhand cigarette smoke and vape clouds while walking between classes and around campus. So, what gives with tobacco on campus?

When considering the health consequences that can come from tobacco and nicotine products, it does makes sense that a University would want to do its best to protect against it. This, along with the recent increase to the age of purchase in Amherst and the surrounding towns to 21, made it inevitable that UMass would take a stance against tobacco.

But if health on campus is such a concern of the University, then why does this tobacco ban seem to be so ineffective on school grounds? I believe that rather than actively working against tobacco and nicotine use on campus, UMass has used this policy as another campaign slogan that lacks any real substance in practice. “Tobacco-free” represents a false promise made by UMass, and a change needs to be made in order to justify the policy.

When opening the site for the UMass tobacco policy, I was met with an image of hands coming together, presumably to fight against smoking and vaping on campus. The site states that, “The use of any tobacco product including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarette/vapes are prohibited indoors and outdoors on the UMass Amherst campus grounds.” The trouble comes in how the policy is enforced. The University chose to use a method of “voluntary compliance” – otherwise known as zero consequence. It is suggested that members of the community inform smokers that it is against campus policy, and point them in the direction of campus resources that are available for those that are attempting to quit.

For students, this means that they can continue use of tobacco products without any worry of how the policy may apply to them. This differs for indoor use – which can be an offense worthy of a write-up –  but with the popularity of vape-style consumption, which produces a small amount of odor-free smoke, it makes smokers difficult to identify in dorms. With this being the case, there is little-to-no incentive to quit. For the time being, it seems that “tobacco-free campus” is just a method to give UMass a good reputation; in actuality, it makes no practical difference.

The only people on campus that are currently at risk of facing consequences are “employee violators.” They risk suspension if they are repeatedly reported for using tobacco and nicotine products. It seems strange that the possible punishment would be so drastic for employees while the students body can continue use.

A major issue with this policy is that many students are not using tobacco products that are very obvious. Friendly reminders could possibly have an effect on someone smoking a cigarette outside of campus buildings, but small vape products like “Juuls” are so easily concealed that people can even use them in class without anyone taking notice. How can members of the community attempt to inform every person who uses a Juul-type vape of the campus policy, especially considering how wide-spread vape usage is among the college-age demographic? If some students feel that many of their peers are using these products, then they may be less inclined to follow a zero-consequence policy. And this lack of motivation also shows how students may feel about the ineffectiveness of the current policy.

So if the University truly wants to improve the health of the members of the campus community, what steps can be taken to resolve the issue? On other campuses, such as Michigan State, there is a fine for tobacco use that can reach as high as $150. Now, it is difficult to determine whether a fine would be effective in curbing tobacco use on campus –  evident by the persistence of alcohol and substance use, even with the risk of penalty –  but the reality is that the University will never know unless it is implemented. Another important measure would be to adjust the policy from “tobacco-free” to “nicotine-free.” Vape products often lead to use of products such as conventional cigarettes so it should be clear, through the slogan, that the policy is not strictly cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco. If members of the community don’t consider vapes tobacco products, then they will consider themselves an exception to the rule.

If UMass actually wants to create a healthier environment for students, then more work needs to be put into curbing smoking on campus. Otherwise, they should stop using “tobacco-free” as a reputation booster, and let adults make their own decisions regarding their health.

Cameron Smith is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]