Results of tobacco free referendum withheld for further review

Along with the ballots for the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) elections last week, students also voted on a referendum on the possible tobacco-free campus policy. The full results, which have not been released, are currently under review by the USG Student Life Committee. A summary of the statistics on this referendum is expected to be published after Sunday, April 17.

The referendum was drafted by the Tobacco-Free Subcommittee and conducted by the USG Election Commission. A resolution based on the results will be presented to the USG General Assembly next Tuesday.

The referendum consisted of three questions. The first one asked about students’ opinions on three different tobacco policies and three different categories. There were three options—“Banned Everywhere,” “Only in Designated Zones” and “Allowed Outdoors”—for students to choose from on restriction of tobacco products. The three tobacco products on the referendum were traditional tobacco (cigarettes, cigars and pipes), electronic cigarettes and smokeless/chewing tobacco (chewing tobacco, snuff, dissolvable tobacco products).

According to Andrew Thompson, one of the co-chairs of the Tobacco-Free Subcommittee, this question was designed to offer some details about student support for a tobacco ban, considering the complex nature of the policy that was proposed by Elizabeth Click, the university’s wellness staff and medical director and the author of the proposed tobacco-free policy.

The second question, “Do you approve of the proposed Tobacco-Free Policy, which includes the
elimination of all designated smoking areas,” was added into the referendum by the Tobacco-Free Subcommittee per Click’s request. Barry Goldberg, the other chair of the subcommittee, mentioned that the second question was included in the referendum as a “compromise measure that is not the best gauge for student support.”

“In retrospect, [the second question] may have been a poor way to get student support,” said Thompson. “It’s hard to have a concise way to get student support.”

However the subcommittee found an inconsistency between students’ responses to the first and the second questions in their general analysis of the raw data from the referendum. The chairs of the subcommittee observed that students who voted against a tobacco ban in the first question might have voted for the policy in the second question. Andrew supposed that this discrepancy may have resulted from students’ lack of knowledge on the proposed policy, which was posted along with the referendum.

Because of this the subcommittee decided to withhold the full data of the referendum until it is discussed in the Student Life Committee on April 16.

“It would be irresponsible to distribute the result wholesale without giving the Student Life [Committee]’s opinion,” said Thompson. “Without knowing what the Student Life Committee thinks about the data, I would prefer not to release the data.”

Through the USG newsletter, students can access a spreadsheet titled: “tobacco free policy” with statistics showing that 52 percent of the students voted in support of a tobacco free policy. This number is the result for the second question on the referendum.

It came as a surprise to Thompson and Goldberg that part of the referendum result was published on the website. Garretson Oester, the elections commissioner, explained that the Elections Commission decided to publish the results for the second question because they felt that the student body needed to stay informed of the referendum progress.

“The 52 percent vs. 48 percent was released prematurely,” said Thompson. “It’s not necessarily an accurate view of student opinions because there are other questions that were specifically asked to get other elements of student opinions that do not necessarily agree with question two.”

The third question deals with the compliance methods. Options for different types of compliance include: community-based compliance, enforcement by residence staff and enforcement by CWRU Police. Since the subcommittee is still working on analyzing the data, the turnout for the third question is unclear.

The full statistics from the tobacco-free referendum will be published by next week after they are evaluated by the Student Life Committee. A resolution will also be drafted by the Tobacco-Free Subcommittee and presented to the USG General Assembly next week.