Students speak out in smoking ban survey

Thirty-eight percent of students voted in favor of the university’s proposed smoking ban, while 52 percent voted against it, according to survey results released Tuesday night.

The survey, administered by Student Senate, solicited students’ views on a September 2006 proposal to ban smoking everywhere on campus by 2010.

“The quantitative response we received through the poll is greater than the typical level of response by CMU students, which we are pleased with,” said Megan Larcom, chair of Campus Life on Student Senate and first-year business major.

The original proposal was presented to Student Senate two weeks ago by the Healthy Campus 2010 Task Force, made up of undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and staff from different departments. The group’s report, “Tobacco Use on Campus: Progress Toward a Smoke Free Community in 2010,” highlighted its three main goals in achieving a campus-wide smoking ban.

The Task Force’s first goal is to prohibit smoking in all university-owned buildings, from fraternities and sororities to residence halls and classrooms.

University policy currently allows smoking within 20 feet of the entrance to any campus building.

The report recommends instituting a preliminary policy that would prohibit smoking in all indoor facilities and allow it only in designated outdoor areas of campus. By January 1, 2010, smoking would be banned completely on all areas of campus.

“Research tells us that a large number of college students start smoking when they come to college,” said Anita Barkin, director of Student Health Services and chair of the Task Force. “By having a smoke-free community, you decrease the chance that a student will initiate the habit because the community norm is non-smoking.”

The proposal’s second goal is to promote the “community norm” by eliminating all tobacco marketing and sales on campus.

The task force recommends ceasing tobacco sales at Entropy, ending tobacco advertisements in publications, and continuing current smoking treatment programs, such as those run by Student Health Services.

“Research also tells us that a majority of smoking students want and try to quit,” Barkin said. “A smoke-free community provides a more supportive environment for the person trying to quit.”

Thirdly, the Task Force hopes to prevent tobacco use in the young adult population through a campus-wide effort, led by Barkin, to extend education outreach initiatives to both Carnegie Mellon students and Pittsburgh youth.

Students’ responses to these initiatives has been mixed.

The survey results represent the views of 1837 Carnegie Mellon students, whose participation was voluntary. The students were asked a series of seven questions which dealt with different areas of the ban: whether smoking should be allowed in fraternities, if students should be fined for smoking on campus property, if cigarettes should continue to be sold at Entropy, whether there should still be tobacco product giveaways on campus, if there should be more anti-smoking publicity on campus, whether Student Health Services should create more programs to help students quit, and whether or not the university should impose a total smoking ban. Students stated whether they were for, against, neutral, or didn’t care about each issue. They were also given the opportunity to comment on each aspect of the proposed ban.

“With about 30 percent of the undergraduate student body participating in the referendum, I think we got a fairly balanced view of how the campus feels about the ban,” said Lauren Hudock, communciations chair on Student Senate and junior public policy and management and philosophy major.

Thirty-six percent of students voted against banning smoking in fraternities, while 38 percent were in favor of continuing the current policy.

“I think a frat house is a completely different environment and deserves some special attention.... I’m not personally part of a frat... but when I think of frats I think of things like hookahs and so on,” one student wrote on the survey.

Sixty-two percent of students surveyed agreed that students who violate the smoking policy should be fined by campus police, while 28 percent argued against the fines.

Students were more divided when asked if cigarettes should continue to be sold at Entropy — 35 percent were in favor of continuing the current policy while 45 percent voted to eliminate the sale of cigarettes and tobacco on campus.

However, many students were confused by the question about giveaways on campus because few had ever seen cigarettes given out on campus.

“This basically refers only to one day a year when Sigma Nu holds a smoke-a-thon on National Quit Smoking Day where anyone who walks by can smoke a cigarette, cigar, or hookah for free,” said Gerrit Betz, a senior ethics, history, and public policy major and chair of Student Senate’s Internal Development Committee. “Otherwise, cigarettes aren’t really ‘free’ on this campus unless you’re borrowing one from a friend.”

Sixty-three percent of students were against giving out tobacco for free, while 22 percent were in favor of free smokes.

Students strongly indicated that they wanted their fellow classmates who smoke to get help quitting. Forty-seven percent of students surveyed supported increasing the level of smoking education on campus through advertisements and propaganda, and 79 percent of students supported creating better programs to help students quit smoking more effectively.

“There is general public recognition of the negative health effects resulting from smoking,” Barkin said. “More and more Americans are quitting.”

Barkin also reminded students that smoking is the leading preventable disease in this country, according to the surgeon general’s report.

However, there are still students who believe that the decision to ban smoking here at Carnegie Mellon would have a negative impact on the university’s image.

“I can see this restriction having more significance than reducing the amount of smoke,” Huddock said. “It will change the mentality of the people on campus and the activity that you see on campus.”

While a decision to ban smoking could show the university’s commitment to the health of its students, it also may appear to question students’ freedom and portray the university as unwelcoming to students who smoke.

“Students should be treated like adults and trusted to make their own lifestyle decisions,” wrote one student surveyed. “Given all of the information already out there, I do not believe more funding needs to be dropped into this.”

University data approximates that between 10 and 15 percent of the campus community smokes.

When Barkin asked students if a smoking ban would have changed their decision to come to Carnegie Mellon, most students said no.

In addition to Student Senate, the Healthy Campus proposal has been presented to the Graduate Student Assembly, the Student Dormitory Council, and the Interfraternity Council.

Although the survey results have proven be helpful to administrators, they have not reached a final consensus.

“This [proposal] is only a list of recommendations at this point,” said Barkin. “The Task Force will evaluate all of the feedback we have received and send a policy recommendation to the President’s Council. It is then likely that we will have to go back to Faculty Senate, Student Senate and Staff Council for a vote before it goes back to the President’s Council for a vote for adoption. Only then would the announcement be made.”

If the ban were to be enacted, Carnegie Mellon would be one of the first universities with such a policy in effect.
The University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Carlow University, and Point Park University have all enacted partial smoke-free policies.

However, only a very small percentage of schools nationwide have chosen total prohibition policies.

“We have done some benchmarking to find out what peer schools are doing and we have shared the list of smoke-free campuses with everyone,” Barkin said. “Most of the schools on the list are not peer institutions.”

Many of the schools listed were local and community colleges, where such policies can be enforced more easily because the student population is smaller and most students commute.

The decision to ban smoking has also made it into local politics.

Last year, the Allegheny County Council proposed a bill that would prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars, a law that has already been enacted in cities like New York and Chicago.

County representatives will vote on the bill in June.