USG hosts open forum on university’s tobacco-free proposal

On Friday, April 1 in Strosacker Auditorium, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) hosted an open forum on the university’s proposed tobacco-free policies. Walking around to the less than 20 students in the auditorium, a USG representative handed out speaking cards to those interested in speaking during the open mic session.

Vice President of Student Affairs Lou Stark started the forum with a brief introduction.

“One of the things we try to do universally is get as much feedback as we can,” he said, standing under the red-and-white “NO SMOKING” sign above the stage door. He added that the university is in the final stages of getting feedback on the tobacco-free policy.

One of the most-voiced concerns about a tobacco-free campus has been the difficulty in enforcing such a policy. This is still something the university has not worked out, but possible ideas include community enforcement (people telling students, staff and faculty members that are actively smoking on campus that it is not allowed) and having campus police and security enforce the restriction on tobacco use.

No punitive measures are proposed for the individuals that go against the tobacco-free policy, either. However, according to Stark, “We’re not looking at it to be a punitive policy.” The aim of a tobacco-free campus, he says, is to try to stop people from smoking altogether, not to try to stop them from smoking on certain places on campus.

When asked about an individual’s rights to make their own decisions in regards to tobacco in a question-and-answer session immediately after his speech, Stark stressed that CWRU is a private university; if the university bans tobacco use on its campus, that is the university’s prerogative.

Taking the stage after Stark, Elizabeth Click, the medical director for the university, presented an overview of the proposed policy. A tobacco-free campus as is currently planned, she says, would essentially mean removing the 15 designated smoking areas around campus. Individuals on campus would not be allowed to use any tobacco products including e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco, but they would still be allowed to possess those products.

Tobacco cessation programs have been available for faculty, staff and students, something that Click says is an “important initial step so that we can ease people into this transition.”.

“We have had a number of successes,” Dr. Click said when asked by a student how the available cessation programs have been faring so far.

Third-party individuals like Bon Appétit employees would also be banned from smoking on campus, but they would not receive access to the university’s tobacco cessation programs. Click said it is assumed that they or their employers have their own tobacco cessation programs.

The goal of this tobacco-free policy, Click said, is to create a “culture of health.” When a student asked if there are plans to ban vending machines with sugary drinks in them if the university is trying to create a culture of health, Click said that there were no plans to remove vending machines. “Here on our campus, people like to have choice, and there’s a value in that choice,” she said in regards to the vending machines.

After Click’s question-and-answer session, fourth-year student Barry Goldberg and first-year student Andrew Thompson, USG representatives, took the stage. They presented and explained the referendum that was available on the ballots on Wednesday and Thursday, and offered a few of the more common concerns USG has heard from students. One of the major student opinions, they said, is that because there is no way to ban smoking on sidewalks, smokers would just move to those public sidewalks, where it is harder to avoid secondhand smoke.

Following the USG presentation, the floor was opened to individuals willing to speak their opinion on the matter.

Fourth-year Emily Morris took the stage first, holding a list of notes that she took during the open forum.

“I would like to note that this is not the 1980s,” Morris said. “People know the risks of smoking. I believe that tobacco is just an easy target—it’s easy to put on brochures.”

Of the three individuals that spoke during the open microphone session, two voiced opinions against the tobacco use ban, and one, who was not available following the forum for comment, supported it.

“It’s not a right, but a responsibility of us, to help people,” the supporting student said.

Voting closed on the USG tobacco-free referendum on April 7. USG may soon release a resolution based on what the results reveal about student opinion.