Nicotine ban up for debate again

A proposed change to university policy would prohibit all smoking, tobacco and nicotine products on campus and rely on collective enforcement

Newswire photo by Jeff Richardson | A proposed change to university policy would make Xavier a smoke-, tobacco- and nicotine-free campus by the start of the Fall 2019 semester. The proposal will take effect on July 1 if it receives administrative approval.

A proposed change to university policy could mean Xavier will become a smoke-, tobacco- and nicotine-free campus by the start of next semester. The policy would prohibit the use, sale or distribution of all tobacco products and nicotine delivery systems — including vaporizers and JUUL devices — on all property leased or owned by Xavier, according to documents provided to the Student Government Association (SGA).

During the Jan. 28 SGA meeting, Chief Student Affairs Officer Dr. Dave Johnson, Dean of Students Jean Griffin and Associate Vice President for Human Resources Connie Perme spoke with senators to introduce a draft of the proposal. The change will require administrative approval in the coming weeks and, if approved, would take effect on July 1, 2019, prior to the start of the Fall 2019 semester.

The last major push for a smoke-free campus came in the fall of 2016 and emanated mostly from members of SGA. Led primarily by former Senator Bren Mullins, the association hosted forums and surveys to assess student views about smoking on campus. The efforts culminated in a referendum question on the 2016 Executive Election ballot about student preferences surrounding smoking policy approaches, but momentum behind the push appeared to sputter soon afterward.   

According to Perme, the efforts began again in earnest on the administrative side.

“In the last year and a half there has been a coordinated focus on wellbeing through the Wellbeing Steering Committee and the Employee and Student Wellbeing Committees,” she said. “They felt that now was the right time to join the hundreds of other schools that are 100 percent smoke-, tobacco- and nicotine-free.” 

The policy did not go uncontested in its formation stages. Ellen Rakowski, a senior and one of four students who sits on the Student Wellbeing Committee, explained that she raised concerns when the committee was approached about the prospect of a smoke-free campus.

“I told them that there was not going to be widespread student support for a smoke free campus,” Rakowski said. “There would either be student pushback, as I saw firsthand in 2016, or student ambivalence.” 

Throughout the policymaking process, the positions of other universities in Ohio and Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) schools were reviewed, Perme said. As of November 2017, 2,082 universities and colleges throughout the United States had smoke-free policies in place, according to a recent report by the Center for Disease Control. Furthermore, 28 colleges and universities located in Ohio — including Ohio State University, Miami University and University of Toledo — have 100 percent smoke-free policies in place.  

SGA Senator Robyn Arnould raised concerns about the policy’s enforcement on campus.

“At least once a week I walk past Alter Hall and see people smoking cigarettes closer than eight feet to the doors,” she said, referencing the university’s current restrictions about smoking on campus. “My question is, if the existing policy isn’t enforced or even known about, how will a new smoke free policy be enforced?” 

According to documents provided to SGA, the policy provides for enforcement in stating “All members of the Xavier community are encouraged and empowered to identify and address those in violation of this Policy.” Griffin suggested that violations of the policy would incur warnings spelled out in existing discipline processes instead of more punitive measures such as expulsion. The aim of enforcing the proposed policy would be to promote health rather than to punish students, Griffin indicated.  

Senator Sam Peters, chair of the Student Rights and Identity Committee, expressed reservations about the proposal.

“One of my biggest concerns is the rift that will form between students and staff members, because staff members are the ones who are smoking more so than students,” Peters said. “Students already treat staff members very poorly, and I think that having ‘no smoking’ signs furthers the rift, especially among people for whom smoking has been a longtime habit. 

“I like the fact that this is all a part of a wellness campaign, I think that’s a really good place to put it. But I also think this is coming as more of a PR tactic rather than addressing a pressing need on campus.” 

At the SGA meeting, Perme explained that the delayed implementation of the policy until July 1 is designed to afford students, faculty and staff who smoke ample time to adjust their habits or find the support they need to quit.

“Providing cessation support to those who are interested in making a change is one of our highest priorities,” she said in a subsequent interview. “The McGrath Health and Wellness Center has been engaged, and they have available resources to support cessation.  Anthem (Xavier employee’s current health care provider) has a number of programs to support cessation. Additionally, the student and employee Tri-Health wellness coaches will be offering individualized cessation coaching.”

By: Ryan Kambich | Opinions & Editorials Editor