Students voice concerns on tobacco-free campus
August 16, 2016
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As of August 15, 2016, The University of Texas of the Permian Basin campus (and its owned and leased properties) became tobacco-free.
The policy prohibits all “tobacco products including, but not limited to, cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, chewing tobacco” and other related products at UTPB. The policy exempts use of tobacco inside a private car with the windows rolled up.
As of today, the University’s policy does not specify the kind of punishment for violating the new rule. However, Texas Penal Code Section 48.01 states that an “offense is punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.”
The policy is an attempt to have a healthier environment at the University. “The University of Texas of the Permian Basin aspires to be a healthy campus that fosters a positive and productive environment for all students, faculty, staff, vendors, and visitors,” wrote President David W. Watts in a letter to UTPB community letter.
Caio Aguiar, a senior with a major in Business Management, thinks that there are better ways to benefit people’s health. Campus officials “should invest money in tobacco awareness,” he said. He suggested for the University to offer help for those who are trying to quit.
However, the University and Dr. Watts are committed to offer help. “The Counseling Center will provide support to students who wish to discontinue tobacco use. Faculty and staff may consult with the Counseling Center and/or Human Resources for services regarding tobacco use prevention and cessation” the Smoking and Tobacco Free Policy states.
As reported by The Mesa Journal, some faculty members are in favor of the new policy while some students oppose it.
Chad Harrison, a Junior at UTPB with a major in mechanical engineering, opposes the ban. “It is just ridiculous. I earned my right to use tobacco products when I turned 18,” he said. He believes there should be designated areas to smoke.
Under policy rules “limited and appropriate individual exceptions may be considered.” When asked whether he would apply for an exception, he said, “No. Flat out no.”
He thinks banning tobacco is a step closer to banning other behaviors. “First, it is tickets for parking opposite the flow in a diagonal plot parking lot. Then, it is a dry campus regardless of age. Now, it is banning all tobacco products regardless of location or environment. What is next?” he said.
This view was echoed by Aguiar. He compares the new policy to the dry campus policy. “People still do it anyways, plus there’s more drinking and driving,” he said.
Another student, Madeline Martinez, a Sophomore with a major in Kinesiology, thought the same. “I shouldn’t know this, but people drink on campus and not much happens,” she said. Although she does not oppose the new rule, she agreed with Caio’s concern that “whoever has a car will go smoke in their cars, and those who don’t will open the windows of their rooms and will smoke next to the window.”
Harrison, not a regular smoker, but reported to have smoked in the past said, “well, let’s see how many tickets I can get this year.”
Their concerns for lack of enforcement are not isolated opinions. In research, “concerns regarding lack of enforcement of tobacco-free campus policies have emerged” said Helen C. Russette, Dr. Kari Jo Harris, Dr. David Schuldberg, and Linda Green in their report Policy Compliance of Smokers on a Tobacco-Free University Campus.
According to UTPB’s Smoking and Tobacco Free policy, someone who sees an infraction “may attempt to resolve the problem informally by requesting that the individual compl[ies] with the policy.” Repeated offenses will be referred to the “Office of the Senior Associate Vice President for Student Services for student non-compliance with this policy.”
UTPB is not the first campus to adopt a tobacco-free policy. Most 4-year public colleges and universities that have adopted this new policy in California have been successful in compliance.
“With each successively stronger tobacco policy, fewer students report exposure to secondhand smoke and having seen a person on campus smoking.” Dr. Amanda Fallin, Dr. Maria Roditis, and Dr. Stanton Glantz wrote in the American Journal of Public Health. In other words, despite concerns, tobacco-free campuses in California have been able to enforce outside smoking.
However, this does not rule out Caio’s concern that students will start smoking inside the dorms. “I don’t think the police will go more often [inside the dorms] because they can’t know who is smoking and who isn’t,” he said.
Other schools, like the University of Indiana, have been successful in reducing smoking. When a group of researchers at the Department of Applied Health Science compared the University of Indiana’s policy, which did not allow tobacco products in campus to Purdue University’s policy, which allowed smoking outdoors, they found a decrease in smoking.
“A significant decrease in current smoking prevalence among Indiana students and no change among Purdue students” Dong-Chul Seo, Jonathan T. Macy, Mohammad R. Torabi, and Susan E. Middlestadt write.
The new tobacco-free policy at UTPB faces some opposition and some students are skeptical whether it can be enforceable. However, other schools have been successful in enforcing a tobacco-free campus and curving smoking behaviors. The University is committed to help those who want to stop smoking. It is just a matter of time to see whether UTPB will be the rule or the exception for the success of this new policy.