Smokers Under Fire

On-Campus Smoking Debate Continues

Students smoking at a designated area outside the CAB.  NICHOLAS BENSE

Students smoking at a designated area outside the CAB. NICHOLAS BENSE

BY NICHOLAS BENSE

The Evergreen State College currently permits smoking in designated outdoor areas. There are 10 of these smoking spots spaced fairly evenly around the campus. Currently, dialogue is rising regarding whether or not Evergreen’s smoking policy adequately addresses every persons’ needs and concerns in a just manner.

Various sects within the campus community are proposing ideas such as relocation and possible reduction of the current smoking areas that now exist on campus (including a suggested alternative that would limit smoking only to personal vehicles) or a complete smoking ban (that would prohibit smoking even in personal vehicles). Others feel as though the current situation is a perfectly rational means of protecting every party’s interests.

Evergreen recently held a town hall meeting to present interested parties opportunities to defend or amend the smoking policy as well as voice their concerns with regards to the topic. Although the discussion presented only pre-constructed arguments in favor of a smoking ban (two speakers in total), there was an audience that widely represented the various feelings on the issue – four speakers defended the current policy on campus, five speakers who seemed neutral or in favor of compromise, and seven speakers approved of the smoking ban.

There were many points brought up during the discussion. An anonymous speaker referred to smokers and their civil liberties. “I think it’s a big violation of their autonomy to say you’re not allowed to smoke,” they said. Another unnamed speaker spoke about her adverse reactions to cigarette smoke: “There has to be some way of accounting for those of us who cannot be around it without ill effect.”

Hot topics also included the various health problems associated with smoking, the environmental effects of tobacco growing, and the problems of a child labor supported major tobacco industry in Malawi. These points were counter-balanced by ideas of smoking acting as a stress-reducer, the overarching idea of autonomy and choice as a spiritual necessity, and efforts to support locally-grown and organic tobacco farmers through informed consumerism. One example is the American Spirits dark blue box brand of tobacco, which is 100 percent US grown organic tobacco.

There are plans to introduce a campus-wide survey by the Geoduck Student Union (GSU) concerning this topic. Random interviews conducted by me among the student populace indicated a large amount of opposition to a total ban and even discontentment with the liberties of the current policy. Another unnamed student said, “I don’t understand why we are not allowed to smoke in the smoking areas at the Mods after 10.” Student Nicholas Ormbrek referred to the smoking ban as “the ways in which people try to control other people. It’s getting out of hand.” I was hard-pressed to locate an individual in favor of a complete smoking ban, but there was support for compromise between the different sides. In another interview, an anonymous student put forth the idea of holding a vote: “If a large enough amount of people have a problem with a specific smoking area, then we could move it, but I don’t feel like we should get rid of them altogether.” In the same interview, student Jackson Berlou said, “I feel like the smoker pits are a compromise.”

The current smoking policy is peer enforced. Campus Police Chief Ed Sorger said campus police will not cite violations of school smoking policy unless they conflict with state laws that dictate there can be no smoking inside as well as within 25 feet of doors, windows, and vents. There are concerns that such a repressive measure against smoking on campus would result in negative consequences. A speaker at the town hall meeting said that in the wake of a total ban, “people will smoke everywhere then; they’ll litter, the secondhand smoke will be more of an issue…With the smoking areas, [non-smokers] can avoid them if they want to.”

Campuses that have set the precedents for non-smoking policies are mostly satellite campuses with small campus sizes that usually permit smoking in parking lots, schools in urban areas that are proximal to smoking areas on city-owned streets, and religiously-affiliated colleges and universities. There are exceptions to this trend however, such as schools with large campuses such as the University of California or University of Montana.

According to a 2013 study done by the Harvard School of Public Health, 33 percent of U.S. college students use tobacco products at least once a month. At Evergreen, that percent would translate to just over 1,400 students. Only 16 students were at the previous town hall meeting, and more than half were for a smoking compromise or a ban. Allison Van Nostran, a member of the Health and Safety Advisory Committee, brought up an integral point concerning the decision-making process for Evergreen’s current smoking policy: “I feel like the Health and Safety Committee is a little bit biased in this sort of issue and shouldn’t probably be the sole body making decisions about this.”

The web survey that is currently in the process of being administered by the GSU may answer some questions concerning who feels how in regards to the call for a smoking ban on campus and the various compromises that have been proposed. Will the status quo prevail? Will problematic smoking areas be recognized and solutions proposed? Will smokers find policies constraining them to their cars? Or will smoking cease to exist whatsoever on campus?  A small number of people are working on the policy, but there is opportunity for all Evergreen students and faculty to ensure the decision making process is democratic and reflective of the entire community.