Some still blow smoke at USM tobacco ban

One of the new “no smoking” signs posted at Luther Bonney Hall.
Alex Greenlee | The Free Press
One of the new “no smoking” signs posted at Luther Bonney Hall.

Posted on January 21, 2013 in News
By Tom Collier

Students returned to the University of Southern Maine last Monday to begin classes for the spring semester. For most students, that day also marked the first that the university’s new tobacco policy would affect them. In spite of the ban, some students still light up between classes on university property.

Student response to the ban has been mixed. While many appreciate the cleaner air provided by a smoke-free environment, others question whether the policy was fairly implemented. Gabby Foster, a senior spotted dragging on a cigarette near Luther Bonney Hall, and her friend Abigail Felker, a senior and non-smoker, both believe that the policy is well-intentioned but poorly executed. Both Foster and Felker questioned the true intent of the policy.

Felker, who is herself an asthmatic and sensitive to smoke in close proximity, said that while she didn’t smoke herself, she felt that a ban on tobacco infringed upon the rights of paying students.

Foster agreed. “[The new tobacco policy] is all about segregating smokers and trying to force them to quit. I’m not going to quit because someone tells me to — I’m going to quit when I want to quit.”

The two students pointed out that there were no designated smoking areas on campus where smokers might congregate without having to worry about offending nonsmokers with second-hand smoke. Felker suggested the placement of agazebo on the far end of the campus green that abuts Bedford Street and Brighton Avenue. Foster chimed in,  “Yes, this campus needs a butt hut.”

When asked whether she thought students would follow the new policy, Foster shook her head. “Nope,” she said, “definitely not.” She went on to cite her experience attending the University of Maine at Farmington, where she claimed that a similar policy had been implemented, only to be greatly ignored by the student body.

In a recent letter to students, USM President Theodora Kalikow said that the new policy was now “in a planned period of ‘transitional compliance.’” This planned period is projected to run through Sept. 1, 2013, after which, failure to comply with university policy will incur disciplinary action.

Public Safety officer Jeffrey Soper, when asked how Public Safety is currently enforcing the tobacco ban, said that if he sees a student smoking on campus, he’ll politely remind him or her that USM is now a tobacco-free university and encourage adherence to the new policy.

“Diplomacy,” he explained, “has always worked well for me in my 30 plus years of being a police officer.”

In regards to the effectiveness of the policy, Soper said that “for the most part,” he believed it to be working.  He did show potential concern, however, for the safety of student smokers living on the Gorham campus, who will be forced to smoke beyond university grounds and potentially close to busy roads, pointing out that his top priority has always been ensuring the continued safety of the students. “The students,” said Soper, “that’s who I work for.”