Questioning the no smoking policy

By JOHN STECKROTH, Guest Writer

John Steckroth/MJ
John Steckroth/MJ

The prohibition of smoking on the University of Michigan’s campuses began on July 1, 2011. However, three years later the Smoke-Free University Initiative has been called into question by faculty and staff as being ineffective.

As part of the Michigan Healthy Community Initiative (MHealthy) established in 2005, the tri-campus smoking ban aimed at creating a healthier learning environment.  The policy banned smoking on all University of Michigan facilities, buildings, grounds, sidewalks, thoroughfares, parking lots and parking structures.

Announced in April of 2009, the Smoke-Free University Initiative went into effect three years ago this July, yet the faculty and staff remain uncertain on a major portion: Is this thing supposed to be enforced?

Three weeks ago, in a forum open to faculty and staff, a conversation began on the clarity of the policy, as well as its unenforceable nature.

“The policy relies on voluntary compliance,” said Ken Kettenbeil, Director of Communications.  The Steering Committee for the initiative, chaired by Dr. Robert Winfield and Kenneth Warner, also recommended that the University “should not consider fines or other explicit penalties as means of primary enforcement.”

Repeat offenders and blatant violations can however be dealt with in the same way that any other policy violation of the University of Michigan-Dearborn Student Rights & Code of Conduct and sent to the Office of Student Conflict Resolution.

Since the policy’s implementation, no one has been disciplined for smoking according to Sgt. Dennis Dzwigalski, Department of Public Safety.

Sgt. Dzwigalski said, “The problem areas in particular are the areas behind the CASL, University Center, and the Library.”

At those areas and at the entrances of many other buildings on campus, the “smoke-free campus” sign has been installed and the ashtrays removed.

“The littering is getting out of control,” said Michael Gibb, a senior and non-smoker.  The Steering Committee noted their concerns about the impact of litter on campus and that it should be monitored, ultimately determining that cigarette butt containers are “gathering spots for smokers.”

Many smokers on campus wonder why a smoking shelter isn’t just installed, but the committee believed that using University resources to construct and support such smoking shelters would be in direct contrast to the initiative creating an ambiguous message about the smoke-free campus policy.

The committee, however did support the creation of the MHealthy Tobacco Consultation Service aimed at both monitoring and managing the new policy.  The TCS also provides free smoking cessation classes and even free or discounted nicotine replacement products when a student consults a tobacco treatment specialist.

Lena Gray, a coordinator of the smoke-free environment and health educator with the TCS, said that this semester there has been an uptake in students and staff going to TCS for assistance in quitting.  According to their most recent survey, the number of smokers on campus has dropped by 2 percent, though this number remains at almost a fifth of the student population.

The goal of creating a smoke-free environment on campus began in 1987 when the university banned smoking in buildings.  Now in 2014, students primarily look back on that previous smoking culture as invasive and thoughtless.

In another quarter century, students may look back at today’s smoking culture and think similarly, but as of now, students, faculty, and staff seem to have mixed feelings.