Faculty Senate approves campus-wide tobacco ban without student input


Andrew Hodowanec/Observer

Some students object to the new ban, as they feel that it interferes with their rights.

Case Western Reserve University’s Faculty Senate voted to smoke out tobacco last week, and students are upset that the committee did not consider undergraduate or graduate student opinions while formulating and voting on this policy change.

A proposal to completely ban tobacco on campus was passed by a large margin at the Faculty Senate meeting on Monday, Nov. 23. The decision, still waiting on approval from the Board of Trustees, is expected to be implemented within the next 19 months.

At its General Body Meeting on Dec. 1, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) approved a resolution in opposition to this vote, calling for a student voice in the decision.

The tobacco ban proposal was initially introduced by President Barbara R. Snyder in 2014. A campus-wide poll was conducted by USG at that time, indicating that 52 percent of students were in favor of a tobacco ban.

The proposal was presented at the Senate’s most recent meeting by Elizabeth Click from the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing. Stanton Gerson, the director of the Seidman Cancer Center, also attended the meeting to provide scientific insights on the influence of tobacco usage.

Several concerns, brought up by some faculty senators, were addressed during the meeting, but votes cast were largely in favor of the new policy. The proposed policy will be implemented by an advisory committee led by Click. At the meeting, the policy was described as focusing on compliance, not enforcement, meaning that the policy aims to support those who choose to quit smoking, rather than punishing those who do not comply.

Under the new policy, any types of tobacco-related products, including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, nicotine pads, nicotine lozenges and gum and cigars, will be prohibited on CWRU properties. All of the 13 smoking spots designated under the current smoking policy will be eliminated.

Initially Chippy Kennedy, president of USG, was told that he would not be allowed to attend this Faculty Senate meeting. That decision was reversed, and he was one of three students there.

The other two, the Graduate Student Council President Jessica Slentz and USG Vice President of academic affairs Nishant Uppal, both asked several questions throughout the meeting, before finally voting against the tobacco ban.

According to Kennedy, Click’s answers to those questions were generally along the lines of “we’ll take care of it during implementation.” Kennedy described the tone as “a lot of ‘trust me’ attitude.”

Kennedy and USG Representative Barry Goldberg authored a two-page resolution in objection to this policy’s lack of student inclusion, citing the USG constitution, which states that the organization should act “as a primary liaison between the undergraduate students and the faculty, administration, and other appropriate groups.”

A second proposed resolution, authored by Goldberg representing the Student Life Committee, called for at least four undergraduate students to be included in meetings about the policy, for greater education and outreach to students about tobacco policy and that the CWRU Police Department not have a part in enforcing the policy. After some debate, though it generally had popular support, USG tabled that resolution to reconsider an edited version at a later date.

The Graduate Student Council is creating a resolution to support Kennedy and Goldberg’s approved resolution. That will be voted on at the Graduate Student Council’s next meeting, in February.

The idea of a campus-wide tobacco ban was first brought to the Faculty Senate by Click in September 2014. It was then largely endorsed with one dissenting vote. An update of the tobacco free campus policy was presented earlier this year, with the policy focusing more on education than prohibition.

During the recent Faculty Senate meeting, there were a few voices in dissent including the student voices, largely focusing on the ban of e-cigarettes and other nicotine products. Some faculty senators suggested an amendment to exclude any reference to e-cigarettes from the proposal.

They argued that second hand smoke was not an issue with e-cigarettes, and no concrete evidence had yet been found to prove that e-cigarettes could pose the same health threat as cigarettes. However the amendment was voted down in the meeting.

Gerson was in support of the e-cigarette ban.

“People find it easier to switch to an e-cigarette than just switching to nicotine gum, but switching is not ceasing,” said Gerson. “So they are not stopping smoking. They just switched their source of addiction. So again, the health risk of the ongoing tobacco addiction remains quite real.”

As far as other tobacco products are concerned, Gerson argued that even though they are not documented as directly related to secondhand smoke, they still pose health danger on campus.

“Second hand smoke is the most prevalent source of inadvertent health effect, which cannot be controlled or regulated,” said Gerson. “As for other forms of tobacco, I don’t think they are in and of themselves free of [inadvertent health effects] because they all have a level of exposure.”

Another concern that remains is the different perspectives of tobacco use in different cultures. This issue was brought up in USG meetings, including one held three weeks ago, and has been expressed by the representatives working on a USG tobacco initiative previously. In the USG meeting, suggestions were made to offer special consideration for certain cultures or races.

The Faculty Senate acknowledged this controversy and answered that a “support mechanism” based on different cultures will be applied in the implementation process, though it is not included in the policy itself.

Another controversial topic is students’ individual civil rights. Some senators mentioned that a tobacco ban may confine or violate personal choices.

Roy Ritzmann, the chair of Faculty Senate, responded directly: “[Smoking] is a legal action, so people have the right to do it. But we as an institution have the right to say that we don’t condone certain things.”

Kennedy felt that this policy wrongly discluded student opinion.

“Although students have been involved in this [decision-making] process over the last two or three years, I am not happy that the final decision circumvented student voice,” said Kennedy. “It is not as if there were a poll taken, or a vote in the student government. The final policy was passed in the vote of the Faculty Senate, which was slightly confusing and not really transparent to the students.”

Pingshi Wang, a second-year student, has been smoking since he was in high school, and he feels that the designated smoking spots make for a good system, as they allow people to smoke while minimizing second-hand smoke for those who don’t smoke.

“I think they shouldn’t force students to quit smoking because it is a personal thing,” said Wang. “It is already good to have a few places where people can actually smoke. They don’t have to totally ban smoking. It is a personal rights issue.”

Despite the many controversies around the tobacco ban, Faculty Senate does plan on pushing forward with it next semester. Kennedy advocates that they should reconsider, including student opinion in their decision-making process as outlined in USG’s resolution.

“Regarding the resolution that did pass, it’s to tell the administration that students are now happy with how student input was regarded when making a decision about [becoming a tobacco-free campus],” said Kennedy. “Furthermore, the resolution serves as a blueprint for future administrative decision-making when student input should be taken into account.”

Additional reporting by Aquene Kimmel, News Editor.