Infographic by Creative Designer Jane Lee
The Undergraduate Student Government initiative that would make St. Thomas a tobacco-free campus is “inevitable,” USG president Mike Orth said.
Although no timeline has been set, Orth said he hopes the petition to ban tobacco on St. Thomas’ campuses will go through the president’s office soon.
“Colleges across the nation are going to be tobacco-free,” Orth said. “It’s undeniable that this is the way universities are moving. Even the University of Minnesota is looking at changing policies.”
The push to eliminate tobacco from St. Thomas campuses became one of USG’s major projects in 2011 was overwhelmingly supported by USG representatives. Since its proposal, USG has conducted several focus groups and surveys with students and faculty. Orth said 500 universities had tobacco-free policies in 2011. Now, USG research shows that 1,000 campuses nationwide are tobacco-free, including 25 in Minnesota.
USG reports also found that 32 percent survey respondents said they use tobacco. The current tobacco policy prohibits smoking and chewing inside of any university building or outside of designated smoking boundaries.
Director of Health and Wellness Madonna McDermott provided USG with information and support throughout the process. McDermott said the American College Health Association warns that no level of tobacco exposure is safe and the policy would protect both smokers and nonsmokers.
“I am very excited and supportive of this proposal. From a health perspective, the research and literature is indisputable,” McDermott said in an email.
McDermott said the initiative could also be a preventative measure.
“A tobacco-free campus will help reduce the likelihood that a student will initiate tobacco use while in college. Many young adults start using tobacco while in college.”
The USG’s research showed a majority of St. Thomas students support the policy change. The logistics for St. Thomas are complex though, because the policy would not only affect students in St. Paul, but also faculty members and students on the Minneapolis, Owatonna and Rome campuses.
Sophomore Hannah Roe said she would welcome the tobacco-free St. Thomas campuses. Not only has Roe lost family members to smoking habits, but she also said she finds it to be a rude practice, even in designated areas.
“I used to live in Murray Hall, and the designated smoking area was a dumpster below my room window. The smell used to saturate my room,” Roe said. “Even those who respect the smoking boundaries are usually in front of the library or in front of the student center. I don’t want to have to confront that as someone who is actively trying to avoid it.”
Yet, many students who do not use tobacco products regularly are uncomfortable with the idea. Orth said hookah may or may not be considered at this point, but some students suggest that the initiative allows such practice, despite its similar health risks.
Junior Sarah Cook said there is a distinct difference between smoking a cigarette and smoking hookah.
“I’d be OK if they banned cigarettes, but I like to smoke hookah with my friends. Cigarette smoke is offensive, but hookah smoke disappears quickly and doesn’t have that offensive smell,” Cook said. “It’s not surprising that so many schools have adopted such a policy so quickly, but I would like an exception.”
Some student smokers are also resistant to a ban on tobacco products. Sophomore exchange student Hussain Alhashem said smoking is part of his lifestyle and a ban would cause inconvenience.
“I have friends who go to Mankato State, so I have thought about what it’d be like to have a smoking ban,” Alhashem said. “A smoker needs to smoke, and I already have to abide by certain rules in public so that I’m not invading other people’s air.”
USG research does show the anti-tobacco momentum is sweeping the nation, and Orth said sooner is better than later.
“The student body supports it,” Orth said. “We don’t want St. Thomas to be the last to join this.”
Anastasia Straley can be reached at email@example.com.