- Letters to Editor
With the recent announcement that the university will move to a tobacco-free campus next year, Eastern made a progressive step toward protecting individuals’ rights.
But in doing so, the university will also open itself to potshots and criticisms—largely because the change comes off as an edict from on-high, which inevitably draws questions about the motivations behind it.
The ban will target all types of tobacco use, but smokers is the main group affected. Administrators say no specific group is in the crosshairs, but it’s clear that cigarettes draw the most complaints and are the main driver behind the ban. Murky spittoon bottles or a pod of hookah puffers on Powell Corner are minor annoyances, but hardly grounds for a campus-wide shift in policy. The upcoming “war on tobacco” really is a war on cigarettes and secondhand smoke.
So smokers naturally will be defensive and express distaste for the policy.
We don’t take issue with the ban. But we’d prefer to see it called what it is: a smoking ban.
Seven years ago, a committee began this quest for a smoke-free campus. The committee devised the current tobacco policy, which bans smoking within 25 feet of a building. It also restricts use of other tobacco products within residence halls, academic and service buildings, athletic venues and non-designated smoking areas. Essentially, most of the proposed tobacco ban is already in place. The only thing that’s changing is that smoking will be prohibited everywhere on campus. Considering the fact that at any given time it’s possible to find someone standing next to a doorway puffing on a cigarette, many non-smokers will welcome a clearing of the air.
President Michael Benson said he took up the cause after receiving what he perceived to be overwhelming support in favor of the ban. This goes along with a campus survey that found 64 percent of responders wanted to see a tobacco-free campus, said Renee Fox, co-chair of the tobacco-free task force.
That said, it can and should be argued that Eastern should have made these steps years ago. Nearly 1,200 colleges and universities across the nation are already tobacco-free. Large state universities such as the universities of Louisville and Kentucky have been tobacco free since 2009. Northern Kentucky University is set to levy its own ban beginning next year, some five months before Eastern adopts its ban. President Benson said he attended Eastern’s football game on Morehead State’s campus, which is tobacco-free. And what Benson saw there, he said, suggested that it’s also quite possible at Eastern.
But it shouldn’t take the rest of the state to be tobacco-free for Eastern to make such an obvious move. Rather than being a leader on the issue when it began examining a tobacco-free campus seven years ago, Eastern ends up as one of the last schools to make the change.
When you weigh out the reduced liabilities to the university, it’s easy to see why Eastern is going tobacco-free. University officials don’t have an exact figure for how much money it will save, but President Benson said that, in time, nearly $1 million will be saved annually in insurance premiums. It won’t be immediate, but the fewer smokers and tobacco-users on campus, the cheaper the costs for Eastern to insure its entire population.
Improving the quality of life for students, faculty and staff is great, and the university providing cessation tools such as nicotine therapy, as well as looking into other alternative methods shows the move isn’t completely about money. But it’s no coincidence that right after the university’s reallocations and restructuring, Eastern likewise makes the move to go tobacco-free, which will save money in the long term.
People should probably find better ways to relieve stress or for indulgence rather than ingesting carcinogens. For smokers, note that this is not the same as fatty foods or soft drinks because you choosing to be unhealthy doesn’t affect the next person’s ability to breathe clean air.
Of course, there’s still the issue of enforcement. For starters, the university will have to invest in campus-wide signs. Northern Kentucky University, for example, has peppered its campus with signs pointing out the impending change. For Eastern, this could prove interesting, considering that half the buildings on campus aren’t clearly marked on their own. So additional signs could either be a challenge or a welcome change (one that might shore up the lack of signs elsewhere).
Schools that have imposed bans on smoking have different levels of enforcement ranging from official citations to public reporting and enforcement. The only good aspect of lagging behind other schools is being able to use those policies as a guide for implementing Eastern’s policy, something that the university is doing, Fox said.
All of which is to say that the move to a tobacco-free university makes sense. Sure, it’ll have its hiccups, but that’s to be expected whenever a big change is made to university culture. And change, while daunting, is the only way to find out whether something new might work better.