By Kelsey Santmyer and Tracy Neville
According to a survey released by the University of Rhode Island’s Tobacco-Free Committee, 63 percent of students, faculty and staff support banning tobacco and electronic nicotine products from the Kingston campus.
Since the release of the survey results, a variety of individuals, organizations and departments have voiced their opinions on the ban’s implementation, the need for smoking-cessation programs and the concern for persons struggling with addiction and their campus accommodations at the public institution.
Health Services proposes to implement a smoke-free policy by early 2019, following the lead of over 2,000 schools across the country. The intent of the movement, as explained by Health Services Director Ellen Reynolds, is to promote healthy living on campus.
The survey and committee came as a result of a $20,000 grant in September 2017. Some students disagree with the ban, however.
“If URI was coming at this from a purely compassionate standpoint, we’d see more consistency,” said Sam Foer, URI American Civil Liberties Union president.
Foer argues that if URI wants to take away a freedom in the name of protecting the health of their community, then URI should also revoke their contract with Coca-Cola and remove soft drinks and processed foods from campus. Foer said that despite the health risks associated with smoking, the decision to smoke should not be determined by the University.
“Not only is it infringing upon civil freedoms, but it’s anti-choice,” said Foer. “It lets students know that the University has the right to regulate consumption of products.”
Adamantly against the smoking ban, sophomore John Podesta raised concerns over the University’s integrity regarding their intentions and alleged deception.
“One of the big things for me is that the University has not been honest about what they are doing,” said Podesta.
Podesta postulates that if students were made fully aware of everything the ban entails, they’d be less inclined to support it. “They’re calling it a ‘smoking ban,’ which implies cigarettes when essentially it affects vapes, juuls, and all other tobacco and nicotine products,” said Podesta.
“Everyone knows smoking is bad for you,” said Podesta. “It’s not a question of if the initiative will pass, it’s a question of did you pass seventh grade health class.”
Podesta said that designated smoking areas would be beneficial to reducing secondhand smoke in the non-smoking community, as well as creating stigma and isolation that encourages smokers to quit. As a former smoker, Podesta quit cold turkey.
Podesta also raised concerns over the University’s avoidance of questions and lack of tangible plans for carrying out the ban.
“They have enforcement dates, but not the legislation to support it,” said Podesta. “We don’t even know the penalty [for smoking].”
The smoking ban sets a dangerous precedent for the University, Podesta believes.
“It essentially says if the school gets lobbied enough, which they are by insurance money and CVS, that they can just bypass students, put out some biased, near-propaganda survey, and then pass anything they want while we’re paying them,” said Podesta.
Casey Bates, a second year professional pharmacy student, first heard about the ban in spring of 2017.
“I was the only one who questioned it,” said Bates. “How can the University take away a government freedom when we are federally funded?”
Bates believes more must be done to accommodate the smoking portion of the student population. For example, Bates suggests designated smoking areas in the four quadrants of campus.
“As the College of Pharmacy, being a healthcare provider, we should already be having smoking cessation programs,” said Bates.
Bates recommends rejecting the CVS funding and pursuing a different approach to assisting students with quitting their nicotine addiction without penalties or sanctions from the University. Specifically, Bates recommends involvement on part of all of the University departments instead of the College of Pharmacy acting alone for exclusive funding.
President of Alpha Zeta Omega, a professional pharmacy fraternity, Bates sets aside his personal opinion to support the endeavors made by the College of Pharmacy. In addition to organizations within the College of Pharmacy, student support for a smoke-free campus is prevalent.
“I’m tired of seeing people thinking they’re cool blowing smoke everywhere, especially in my face,” said freshman Michaela Baum. She’s part of the 63 percent of students in favor of the ban.
Students in favor of implementing this initiative on campus feel it will support healthy habits.
“I support a ban on tobacco products because I don’t think people should be smoking. It’s bad for you,” said freshman Louisa Melchionno.
The College of Pharmacy is taking an active role in helping students, faculty, staff and members of the local community to quit smoking, in collaboration with Health Services. Amanda Loomis, fourth-year PharmD student, is one of five Pharmacy students helping to lead a Smoking Cessation research study. Participants receive free counseling to quit smoking in 30 days. Loomis touched upon the health detriments of tobacco use on campus.
“From a public health standpoint, it’s definitely the right thing to do,” said Loomis. “Nine percent of all deaths caused by smoking cigarettes is from second-hand smoke. That’s people who aren’t even making the active decision to smoke that are dying because of this.”
The University is still taking student responses into consideration as they actively work towards solidifying their ideals for the ban. Currently there are no definitive enforcement guidelines, penalty regulations or accommodation proposals.
“At URI we think big, so we should start thinking big about our health too,” said Loomis.