New task force reviews University tobacco policy
Across the nation, smoke-free university campuses are becoming a trend. As a result, UTPA President Robert Nelsen created a new task force to tackle to the smoking issue on campus.
At least 826 colleges or universities in the U.S. have adopted 100 percent smoke-free campus policies, according to No-smoke.org.
Richard Costello is the UTPA director of Environmental Health and Safety, as well as the business affairs member of the Tobacco on Campus Task Force. He believes changing the smoking policy could bring more funds to the University.
“(Changing the smoking policy) is not going to be purely a health-based decision. Grants are tied to non-smoking campuses,” Costello said. “One dynamic reason the campus would ban smoking is to potentially have more grants coming in.”
The Tobacco on Campus Task Force is made up of two students, three faculty members and six staff members. It was established this semester by Nelsen in order to make a recommendation regarding UTPA’s smoking policy, by January 2013.
The actions of the task force include reviewing existing smoke-free policies, conducting focus groups and/or surveys on campus, researching the policies that exist at other institutions, and lastly, recommending a course of action to improve the smoking policy.
Nelsen decided to revisit the policy because of the increasing number of research grants that require the University to certify that it is tobacco-free, as well the rising concern about the effects of second-hand smoke, according to an email he sent to the members of the task force.
“We don’t have a goal, per se,” Weaver said. “Our charge is to make a recommendation to the president by early next year.”
The University’s current policy, which was passed in 1990, bans smoking within 25 feet of an entrance to a building, inside buildings and inside University vehicles. That year was UTPA’s first step into becoming a smoke-free campus by identifying non-smoking areas at the University. UTPA’s current policy doesn’t ban smoking on covered walkways and sidewalks.
Michael Weaver, Faculty Senate member on the task force and history professor at UTPA, said the task force is currently in the research stages of making changes to the current policy.
“We’re contacting other schools, in Texas primarily, to see what they’re doing,” Weaver said. “We’re putting together a survey for faculty, students and staff and we (will) ask if they think the policy should apply to all tobacco products, because right now our University policy only deals with smoking, not with chewing tobacco or any other form of tobacco usage.”
The previous survey showed that the majority of the UTPA community did not smoke and that a minority opposed changing the policy, according to Weaver.
After the task force completes their research in January 2013, they will propose new regulations for smokers, to Nelsen.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 20.1 percent of adults between the ages of 18 to 24 smoked cigarettes in 2010.
Cassy Little, a 21-year-old sophomore business major at UTPA, thinks stricter rules regarding designated smoking areas may be in order.
“I feel like students can smoke if they have their own area,” Little said. “I am against students smoking on the walkway, and their smoke blows in my face… I just don’t like it. They should be smoking away from people and the buildings.”
However, Gabriel Rodriguez, a student smoker, believes that changing the smoking policy won’t work unless someone regulates it.
“I think if someone was really enforcing the current rules, smokers would follow them,” the freshman English major said. “I like the way it is now. The school can make whatever rules they want, but in the end if they don’t enforce them, it won’t work.”
Costello said smokers will probably not get any flack from University police should the policy change.
“I think the police department may have more important things to police than enforcing rules on cigarette smokers,” he commented.
If the University becomes a completely smoke-free campus in the future, Weaver said that an absolute ban would be harder on staff smokers than anyone else.
“If you’re not in class, you can go off campus and smoke,” he said. “Staff members are tied to campus and they may get a 50-minute or an hour break for lunch. But by the time you get out to your car, go off campus, smoke a cigarette and come back, your whole lunch break would be gone because you can’t smoke at restaurants anymore.”
According to Weaver, the location of the University makes it inconvenient for a student to walk off-campus for a smoke.
“I would be happier about an absolute ban if it would be easier for us to just walk across the street somewhere to smoke,” he said. “But with the traffic flow, with no underpasses or overpasses across the street, it’s dangerous crossing University Drive or Sugar Road.”
At the moment, however, it doesn’t look like the University will become a completely smoke-free campus any time soon. Any changes made to the current policy would happen gradually, according to Weaver.
For now, smokers can heave a collective sigh of relief.