The Collegian
Saturday, December 05, 2020

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No oncampus smoking ban, for now

More colleges are implementing campus-wide smoking restrictions across the country, with many becoming smoke-free entirely.

But because there has not been any strong desire expressed by students and faculty to make the University of Richmond campus smoke-free, university administrators said no one should count on the school being added to the list of smoke-free schools anytime soon.

According to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, more than 70 colleges and universities across the country have implemented smoke-free policies for their campuses as of Oct. 1, with a much higher number of schools restricting smoking in all residential buildings. Although no Virginia schools have campus smoking bans, Old Dominion University and the Virginia Tech do not allow smoking in or around their residential buildings.

Smoking is currently banned in all residence halls on the Richmond campus, but is permitted in the University Forest Apartments.

Carolyn Bigler, assistant director of undergraduate student housing, said UFA residents are free to decide whether to allow it in their own apartments. This keeps Richmond from being on the list, since the apartments are considered residential buildings. Joseph Kent, interim provost, said Richmond is smoke-free inside all campus buildings, but there are generally no restrictions for those who smoke outside.

According to the American Cancer Society, the prevalence of smoking is highest among 18-to-24 year olds. Although there hasn't been a formal poll measuring the prevalence of smoking at Richmond, a short walk around campus is enough to assure anyone the habit is not lacking in popularity.

Clouds of smoke rise from groups of students outside the library, the custodians puffing away behind Tyler Haynes Commons, and the professors ripping butts before going to teach a class, indicating the habit is in no danger of dying out.

Students don't have to leave campus to buy cigarettes. A range of tobacco products are available at the ETC convenience store inside the Heilman Dining Center, enabling students to purchase cigarettes as part of their meal plans.

Despite the well-documented health hazards smoking poses for both first- and second-hand smokers, the university administration does not seem to have a plan to mimic what dozens of other schools have done and ban smoking on campus.

Messages left for President Edward Ayers' office were not returned, but vice president of student development Steve Bisese said he has not been approached by students or anyone requesting the university consider making the campus smoke-free.

"I'm not sure that people know there is a real [smoke-free] movement on all of these campuses." Bisese said, adding that while people are used to not being allowed to smoke inside buildings, most people don't typically think of there being restrictions on smoking outdoors.

At a recent conference he attended with administrators from several southeastern colleges and universities, Bisese said smoking restrictions were a popular topic in discussions. While all but one of the schools represented had banned smoking in all residential halls and campus buildings, he said none of them had implemented campus-wide bans.

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Bisese said his two main concerns with such a policy would be deciding whether a smoking ban would be too large an infringement on smokers' rights, and determining how enforceable such a policy would be.

"The restrictions [on smokers] are already so great, why make them even stricter?" he said. "I think we need to ask 'Can this campus truly get behind something like this and really be willing to enforce it?'"

He said that because students are the only ones on campus all the time, it would ultimately become the responsibility of the students to police themselves.

Other schools, including Gainesville State College in Georgia, have successfully transitioned to smoke-free. The school advertises its no-smoking policy on the homepage of its Web site and on signs around campus, and college president Martha Nesbitt says the change has been welcomed by students and faculty alike.

"It's just nicer when you don't have to walk through smoke when walking in and out of buildings on campus," she said. Campus aesthetics have improved because cigarette butts no longer litter the ground, and Nesbitt said the ban had also made the campus a healthier place to study and work.

"Smoking is the worst thing for your health you can do legally," she said, adding that Gainesville students are also required to take wellness courses educating them about the health effects of smoking. "By keeping it off campus, everyone's health is better off."

Though some have been caught smoking on Gainesville's campus, Nesbitt said violations of the smoke-free policy have not been a chronic problem. Those found to repeatedly disobey the policy are subjected to disciplinary action that includes probation or suspension, but she said she had been fortunate enough to not have to punish anyone yet. People choosing to smoke must walk to the parking lots on the campus borders.

Nesbitt admitted that since Gainesville is not a residential college, the policy has been easier to enforce than it would be at a school such as Richmond.

Critics the policy say that a smoking restriction could hurt the number of students applying to a college, but Nesbitt said the smoking ban has not diminished student interest at Gainesville.

Word of the smoke-free campus trend has caused some discussion among students and faculty, and the issue is one that splits the university population. Brian Henry, assistant professor of English and creative writing, is a non-smoker who said he would support such a ban on the Richmond campus

While he had not heard any formal plans for smoking bans, Henry said many of the faculty members discussing the possible policy change support the idea, which he sees as a reflection of an increasingly popular national trend.

"The country is going in the [smoke-free] direction by and large," said Henry, who cited the popularity of recent smoking bans in restaurants and bars. "More and more people are becoming more health conscious and do not want to be surrounded by people smoking."

But other faculty say they would be against a ban. Math professor John Hubbard does not smoke himself, but he said didn't mind if others did and believed that it was wrong to put restrictions on those who chose to smoke.

"It's a matter of smoker's rights," he said. "Just because someone smokes doesn't mean he or she should have to sit in the corner."

Hubbard also expressed doubt that any smoking restriction would be implemented on campus in the coming years.

"I couldn't see it happening anytime in the near future," he said. "Maybe five or 10 years from now, but I can't see it happening anytime soon."

Said senior Justin Polselli: "Banning smoking would be a great idea for the health of everyone on campus. It really is the direction the country is going in, and one I think (it) would create a more enjoyable environment to be in"

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