The days when USM students can light up a smoke or dip into a tin of chewing tobacco on campus may be numbered.
Citing the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, lax enforcement of the current smoking policy and a desire to reduce tobacco use at USM, the Tobacco Policy Committee, led by USM Health Promotion Manager Suzanne Roy, is pushing for a ban of all tobacco products on campus.
Opponents of the ban have argued it’s a violation of students’ free will. “Grown adults should not be told what to do,” said outgoing Student Body President Ashley Willems-Phaneuf. “I’m not endorsing smoking, but I do endorse students’ rights.”
Willems-Phaneuf said she is frustrated the issue is even being discussed while issues like parking, tuition costs and high textbook prices continue to affect the USM community. “It’s a waste of time,” she said. “Smokers need to be considerate, but what right do we have to tell them not to smoke?”
Current USM tobacco policy prohibits smoking in any building on campus, as well as athletic fields, and restricts smokers to designated areas a minimum of 50 feet from buildings. The policy is widely ignored, however, and smokers can often be found congregating in smoke-free areas.
Critics of a potential ban have pointed to the lackluster enforcement of current policy, asking how an even stricter policy would be enforced. Roy said the committee has not yet discussed enforcement, though she said they would like a new policy to be based on self-policing. “I really think people will act in good faith,” she said.
Roy did not rule out the use of fines to enforce a ban, though she said the committee has not yet spoken with the Department of Public Safety to gauge their willingness to hand out fines to smokers.
The potential ban was the subject of a referendum question in the recent Student Government Elections to gauge student opinion. Just over 50 percent of voters disapproved of a tobacco ban.
Senior sociology major Shannon Gilchrist said she was against banning tobacco use on campus. “It’s a public university, so people should be allowed to smoke,” she said.
Because the decision was so close, the Student Senate voted on the issue in their weekly meeting Friday in Portland, agreeing on a resolution against the adoption of a tobacco ban. The senate instead encouraged looking into “alternative methods” of enforcing the current policy.
Student Senate Chair Alie Parker said the senate did not feel comfortable endorsing an outright ban of tobacco products, especially for residential students. “The senators felt it was not appropriate to tell students in Gorham they can’t smoke on campus, especially when they live there,” she said.
The Faculty Senate discussed the issue at their meeting Friday at the Lewiston-Auburn campus, and decided to reconsider tobacco policy at its next meeting in May.
USM President Selma Botman said the administration is waiting to hear from the various recommending bodies like the student, faculty and staff senates before making any new policy decision.
According to Roy, the committee would like to reduce secondhand smoke and litter from tobacco users. But she said it is also the committee’s goal to provide information to help smokers quit.
“This isn’t meant to exclude smokers,” Roy said. “It’s also meant to help them.”
Roy said the committee began pushing for a campus-wide tobacco ban following the initiation of a similar policy at the University of Maine in January.
The University of Maine announced the tobacco ban on its campus in February 2010, and instituted the policy in January, though for the first year the policy will be voluntary.
According to Michael Shepherd, editor-in-chief at The Maine Campus, the ban is unpopular with UMaine students. Shepherd said some students see it as a violation of their rights, while others just find it confusing.”There’s never been any detailed enforcement policy, leaving a lot of people thinking it’s not legitimate,” he said.