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Health

MSU's Tobacco-Free Policy: Will it Have Teeth?

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Missouri State University is less than a year away from implementing a tobacco-free policy across the entire campus.  KSMU’s Jennifer Moore looks at whether the policy will have any teeth. 

MSU has developed a multi-step policy toward becoming completely tobacco-free.  Right now, if someone wants to smoke a cigarette, he or she is supposed to go into one of 26 designated smoking areas. But on August 15 of next year, the university says it will be completely smoke-free.  I asked Earle Doman, vice president of student affairs, how MSU plans to enforce that policy.

“Our approach is [to] ask for cooperation.  The feedback that we have received from institutions who are way ahead of us—we’re  not groundbreaking on this at all—they’ve said that 98% of the people will cooperate,” he said.

He said he’s already put that into practice by approaching students who are enjoying a cigarette in non-smoking areas, like at the tables just outside the Student Union.

“Most recently, an example, an individual was smoking, and we visited awhile. And I said, “By the way, are you aware you’re violating university policy?’ And the response was, ‘What, what?’  And I talked a little bit about the policy and talked about where our designated locations were. And they said, ‘Oh, oh, I’m sorry, well certainly, we’ll do that,’” he said.

When asked about a penalty, Doman said the university is not planning to impose fines or other penalties on people who break the rules, even next year, after MSU becomes totally tobacco-free.

“We’re talking about a culture change here, and we’re hoping that the entire university community will be involved with this.   We have done some training, particularly with some students working with us, and some staff, about ‘How do you approach people?  How do you show respect, but also show that this is the standard of our university?’” 

Ty Patterson is the executive director of the National Center for Tobacco Policy, a not-for-profit group based in Springfield that has helped 500 organizations develop tobacco free policies.

He says one mistake colleges and universities make when they try to go tobacco-free is that they try to move too quickly.

“Most colleges have a policy that prohibits tobacco use within so many feet of a building entrance or exit, or they have some designated area policies—and they’ve found that those policies are very difficult, in fact impossible to enforce. So they make the campus tobacco free. Then they turn the enforcement over to the safety and security people on campus, who are under-resourced.  And essentially, as anyone could pretty much expect, that’s not gonna work,” he said.

He said respect is a key component of a successful policy—and that politely asking a student, faculty or staff member to put his or her cigarette out goes a long way.

But for the long-term policy to have teeth, he said, repeat violators will have to face some kind of consequence.

“At some point, usually quite a ways into the process, it is necessary to have a penalty. But the penalty needs to be a very low fee. I don’t think high-dollar fines work. They’ve proven to not work. They’re hard to administer. They’re hard to apply equally across violations,” Patterson said.

He said the key is identifying people who choose, time and time again, not to comply with the tobacco-free policy.

[SOUND:  Fountain outside Meyer Library]

Outside MSU’s Meyer Library, students, staff and faculty walk past the fountains on their way to and from class. I stopped a few people and asked for their opinions on MSU going toward a tobacco-free campus.

“My name’s Jimmy Blood, and I’m really indifferent about whether it’s smoking or non-smoking.”

“My name is Megan Hoyle.  I think cutting down on tobacco use would probably be a good thing, but I still think people should have the right to go and sit out and smoke if they want. So, maybe restrict it more, but give people still the option and the chance [to smoke].”

“My name is Ben Hydbrink. I really don’t have an opinion. I’m not a smoker, so it doesn’t affect me.”

“My name is Casey, and my opinion is that the no smoking rule is gonna be a good thing. Even just being outside and walking around someone who’s smoking is gross, and it smells bad. It’s gonna be nice to be smoke free.”

Although this is not one of the 26 designated smoking areas, one middle-aged man passed by with a lit cigarette in his hand.  He didn’t want to be recorded on his opinion, but he did say whenever MSU goes tobacco free, he’ll abide by that policy.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.