The architects of MSU’s ban of tobacco use on campus, slated to take effect Aug. 1, hope to use soft enforcement of the policy to change campus norms and improve the health of the student body.
Encompassing smokeless products like chewing tobacco and unlit cigarettes in addition to smoking, the ban also prohibits tobacco use in vehicles on campus parking lots and at sporting events like football games. The only MSU property where use will be allowed is on sidewalks along the edges of campus.
Health Promotions Director Jenny Haubenreiser, who championed the new policy, explained that it is intended to make it easier for tobacco users to quit and discourage students from picking up the habit. She said that the ultimate goal of the policy is to change the campus culture to make tobacco use taboo.
“Policies do shape people’s norms around these types of behavior,” Haubenreiser said, drawing a comparison to the ban of indoor smoking in the 90s. Before that, she explained, the SUB contained a smoking lounge and it was commonplace for students and instructors to smoke in classrooms.
ASMSU President Kiah Abbey, who supports the policy, said she understands the ban to be “peer-regulated,” with enforcement driven primarily by campus community members asking each other to abide by the policy. Both she and Haubenreiser said that repeat offenders will be dealt with through the Dean of Students Office as with other violations of the student conduct code.
There is “no intention to create any type of tobacco police,” Haubenreiser said.
MSU’s existing smoking policy, which prohibits smoking within 25 feet of campus buildings, is widely regarded as ineffective and often ignored. Echoing a common complaint, Abbey, who has asthma, said that smokers clustered around dorm entrances made her less comfortable when she lived on campus.
The new policy is the product of years of discussion between administrators, students and faculty, including a March 2010 referendum where 61 percent of voting students supported making campus tobacco-free.
Drew Kinney, a junior in cell biology and neuroscience who smokes hookah and has used chewing tobacco in the past, criticized the inclusion of smokeless tobacco in the policy, saying that “it seems asinine to ban something that only harms the user.”
He added that health should be the individual’s responsibility: “People do stupid s—t all the time.”
Haubenreiser explained that smokeless tobacco is included in the policy to prevent it from pushing students to switch from smoking to chewing tobacco, which carries many of the same health risks.
“We care about [smokers’] health as much as we care about anyone else’s,” she said, adding that she considers it important to send a consistent message that no form of tobacco is safe.
“MSU is part of what is becoming a trend across the country,” Haubenreiser said. According to Health Promotions, 260 U.S. campuses had implemented tobacco-free policies as of January 2011. MSU will be the sixth campus in Montana to do so, following Montana Tech and UM.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It estimates that between one-third and one-half of smokers — or 760 to 1,000 current MSU students — will die prematurely as a result of tobacco use.