At Michigan State, tobacco prohibition nears

At Michigan State, tobacco prohibition nears

ORIGINAL ARTICLE by RJ Wolcott of Lansing State Journal HERE

Three Marlboro black cigarettes.

That’s enough to get Nicole Cichon, a second-year veterinary medicine student at Michigan State University, through a day of classes.

In previous semesters, Cichon could find 10 minutes between classes to get her nicotine fix. When MSU’s ban of tobacco products takes effect Aug. 15, getting that same fix will require a mile-long round-trip walk.

Cichon says she won’t have time. On campus, she’ll have to do without.

“I’m planning to quit later this summer,” she said, “but I don’t like (MSU) dictating the timeframe,”

MSU’s ban includes the entire spectrum of tobacco products; from cigarettes and chewable tobacco to vaporizers, E-cigarettes and hookahs. It prohibits tobacco use in buildings, on the lawns and sidewalks, even in personal vehicles on MSU property.

“The university is not saying (tobacco users) have to quit,” Jason Cody , MSU’s spokesman said. “But they’ll have to make arrangements.”

Particularly since, at 5,200 acres, MSU has one of the largest campuses in the nation. In the Big Ten, only Penn State is larger.

MSU was the last school in the Big 10 to prohibit smoking inside residence halls. That happened in 2008. It is not the last enact a general smoking ban, though only Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin still allow smoking on their campuses.

In all, more than 1,400 American colleges are now smoke-free, with 1,137 going 100% tobacco-free, according to the group Americans for Nonsmoker’s Rights.

MSU officials say they’re enacting the ban as a matter of public health, arguing that all tobacco products pose health risks.

“We want to promote the healthiest environment possible and make the statement that all tobacco use is unhealthy,” Dr. David Weismantel, MSU’s university physician said.

The restrictions will replace a policy that few heeded, according to Lorenzo Santavicca, president of MSU’s student government.

“When MSU had signs allowing students to smoke 25 feet away from buildings, many students ignored it completely,” he said. “The intention isn’t to sting anyone in particular, but the problem here is we have to think about preserving health, safety and wellness on campus.”

Whether the policy will keep cigarettes unlit and vaporizers chilled on campus remains to be seen.

The ban covers all MSU-owned property, from the sidewalks in front of campus dormitories to parking lots populated by Spartan loyalists on football game days.

To use tobacco products, tailgaters will have to cross Grand River, Harrison or Hagadorn roads to the north, west and east, respectively. Along southern parking lots used for tailgating, smokers will have to cross onto non-university property south of Jolly Road.

Those who light up on campus could receive a civil infraction ticket from the MSU Police Department, costing $150 for a first offense.

It’s not a matter of filling the police department’s coffers, said MSU Police Public Information Officer Doug Monette. Officers will be talking with tobacco users initially, informing them of the new ban and helping them locate appropriate areas to smoke.

“Education is the true focus, and we need to educate the campus community because they won’t know initially,” he said.

Cody said university officials are aware that on Aug. 15 when this goes into effect it won’t be like flipping a light switch. “It’s part of a process to educate folks around campus built around trying to become a healthier place.”

For student smokers, punishments could range from a written warning to a suspension. Complaints against employees would go through human resources, similar to the way chronic tardiness complaints would be handled.

It’s not clear yet how MSU’s labor force will react once the ban is in place, said Jim Rhodes, Jr., president of the MSU service workers union, AFSCME Local 1585. The union represents close to 1,000 employees ranging from custodial to kitchen services.

“The free smoking cessation classes that MSU offers are a good thing, but it’s too early to tell (how staff will react),” he said. I’ve heard grumblings now and then, not heard a lot, but once implemented it could be a totally different story.”

Brad Brown, a 55-year-old driver for CATA whose route takes him through campus, said he has no issues with MSU’s ban. In fact, Brown, a smoker for 17 years, said he thinks it’ll help him quit.

“For me personally, I think it will help.”

Henry Mountain, 23, a MSU senior studying clinical psychology, smokes a cigarette on the porch on M.A.C. Avenue just north of campus, Wednesday, July 6, in East Lansing. On August 15, MSU’s ban on all tobacco products – including e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco – takes effect. On the ban, Mountain said “Good luck enforcing it. If people are going to smoke, let ’em smoke.” (Photo: Dave Wasinger/Lansing State Journal)

The University of Michigan banned smoking on its campus in 2011. It’s done little to get smokers to move from campus to city-owned property, Elden Maynard, a senior studying medieval history at U of M, said.

“I would say no one treats campus and university buildings any differently than anywhere in public,” he said.

Surveys have shown students and faculty are either cutting back on the number of cigarettes they smoke or quitting altogether, according to U of M’s non-smoking initiative website.

But university police in Ann Arbor don’t ticket those who choose to smoke on campus. And for their part, Maynard said, tobacco users seem to be trying to minimize the effect their smoking might have on others.

“For the most part, people are respectful enough to do it far enough removed from entrances,” Maynard added.

The educational component of the ban is already in full swing. Students, both returning and incoming, have received emails regarding the ban. Incoming freshmen will get letters explaining the ban upon arriving on campus in August. It’ll also be hard for them to miss the litany of signs planted in lawns across campus and inside buildings.

The cohort of college students is less likely to smoke than their parents were, mirroring national trends, said university physician David Weismantel.

Among MSU students surveyed in 2014, 8% said they smoked cigarettes six or more days in the previous 30. A decade earlier, it was 13.2% of students. The number of students who said they’ve never smoked a cigarette also increased in that timeframe, from 57% in 2004 to 65% in 2014.

But among U of M students, at least, there seems to be a more accepting attitude toward smoking than there is in the general Ann Arbor population, Maynard said.

“It’s definitely not surprising to see the social smoker contingents outside bars, parties, on game days, and to a lesser extent the habitual smokers on any given day,” he added.

Only 12% of undergraduate and graduate students at MSU in 2014 said they’d had a cigarette within the past month. Compare that with 20% who said they’d smoked marijuana in the same time period and 71% who said they had consumed alcohol at least one day in the past month. Students reported smoking hookahs or cigars or using chewable tobacco at lower rates, approximately 11%, 6.5% and 6%, respectively.

There is at least some evidence that campus bans correlate with declining rates of smoking. Shortly after Indiana University instituted its ban on smoking, Dong-Chul Seo, a professor there, started studying the effects of the restriction. Comparing Indiana with Purdue, which at the time of the study allowed smoking on campus, Seo found the number of student smokers at Indiana dropped 3.7% from 2007 to 2009, while rates at Purdue increased from 9.5% to 10.1%.

At MSU, talks about a tobacco task force began in 2013 with a recommendation from Provost June Pierce Youatt. Task force members began meeting in early 2015 and had a policy ready for trustee approval in June of that year. Members of the MSU Anti-Cancer society collected 1,500 signatures in support of the ban while the task force evaluated their options.

MSU student government supports the ban.The MSU College Libertarians say it goes beyond health concerns with the scope of products banned.

“Let’s face it, some people just hate those mean tobacco companies that they give up individual rights to achieve their goal of no tobacco,” wrote M.C. Fellows, a spokesperson for the group.

Brian May, a senior manager of communications for Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris and The U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, Inc. declined to comment on the ban.

MSU does have exemptions in its policies for student groups using tobacco in religious or cultural demonstrations, Cody said.

Without monetary fines, many smokers expressed doubts about the policy’s potential effectiveness.

John Le isn’t worried.

A manager at East Lansing’s Exscape vape shop, Le said customers haven’t expressed concerns about how they’ll get their daily doses of nicotine while on campus.

“Everyone I’ve talked to still vapes on campus, and I don’t think (this ban) will change anything, he said. “I don’t think it’ll be very enforced.”

Exscape has been selling more vaporizing products than traditional tobacco devices since opening earlier this year on M.A.C Avenue in East Lansing.

Despite the city of East Lansing’s proximity to campus, there haven’t yet been any discussions about how it will respond to the potential influx of smokers, said Heather Pope, a community development analyst for the city.

“Having designated smoking areas, or allowing e-cigarettes or similar products on campus would hamper the public health mission MSU is undertaking with the tobacco ban,” Dr. Weismantel said. Making it less acceptable also has the potential to stop people from taking the habit up in the first place.

“Creating the healthiest campus environment possible can promote others to take up those healthy behaviors,” he added.

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