What does it mean when a college or university says it’s “100 percent tobacco-free?” Does it mean no ifs, ands, or butts (pardon the pun), or are their exceptions?
This fall, St. Catherine University’s St. Paul campus will follow in the footsteps of its Minneapolis sister, prohibiting smoking and tobacco use within its geographic boundaries. St. Kate’s is on a national list of 249 higher-education institutions that are considered “100-percent tobacco-free” or soon will be, according to a June compilation by the American Lung Association and a smoke-free campus effort based in Oregon.
The list describes the institutions as those “prohibiting smoking and all forms of tobacco use everywhere on campus (e.g. no designated smoking areas).”
Fifteen other campuses in Minnesota are on that list, including six in the 32-member Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Minnesota State University Moorhead, which adopted its tobacco-free policy in 2008, is on the list even though it exempts student theater productions and American Indian rituals on campus. But those exemptions are among the few permitted by Minnesota laws. Moorhead doesn’t have “designated smoking areas,” so technically it’s “100 percent tobacco-free.”
North Carolina leads the pack
A quick scan of the national list shows that North Carolina, deep in the heart of tobacco-growing country, has the most colleges — more than 30 — considered 100 percent tobacco-free in the nation. It should be noted that many of North Carolina’s participating schools are community colleges. Among Minnesota’s neighbors, Iowa has 17 and Wisconsin 9.
In March, MnSCU’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution encouraging all of its schools to consult with students and employees about how to further restrict tobacco use on campuses. The list of MnSCU schools adopting tougher anti-smoking policies is growing, said spokeswoman Melinda Voss, who has been updating a list [pdf] of schools and their policies. Policies range from Moorhead’s most-restrictive type allowed under state law to permitting smoking in designated areas or within a certain number of feet of building entrances.
The University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, which this week announced that researchers had created breathing lungs in a laboratory, does not yet have a tobacco-free policy. The policy [PDF] at University of Minnesota Crookston, however, put that school on the national list.
“It is still technically ‘under consideration’ on our Twin Cities campus,” U of M spokesman Daniel Wolter wrote in an email. “A special committee reviewed the issue and outlined an array of options to the president. It has not been acted upon as our revamp of the conflict-of-interests policy and budget matters have been in the forefront.”
One issue likely facing the U’s Twin Cities campus and other sprawling campuses is how to impose a tobacco-free policy when smokers might have to hike blocks to a smoker-friendly area.
St. Kate’s Minneapolis campus paved the way two years ago with a tobacco-free policy at the smaller location.
‘Natural evolution’ at St. Kate’s
“It just seemed like a natural evolution that the St. Paul campus would follow,” said Dr. Amy Kelly, a physician and director of St. Kate’s Health and Wellness Center. “But in terms of having a place to go off campus, it’s much more difficult” because of the larger size of the main campus. St. Kate’s currently allows smoking within 20 to 25 feet of building entrances, she said.
So, where will the smokers go? They’ll likely cross the streets bordering the campus.
The biggest surprise for Minnesota State University Moorhead upon implementing its policy two years ago was the reaction from residential neighbors, said Carol Grimm, director of health and wellness at Moorhead. The institution measures 5-by-14 city blocks.
“We’re a landlocked university so we have residents on three sides of us, and one of the things we struggled with was continuing that good relationship with the neighbors,” she said. “There was a litter issue that came on top of that (smoking), obviously. We had to create a good environment for neighbors, too.”
The solution? Minnesota State placed 12 receptacles on the perimeter of the campus for tobacco debris.
Most favor ‘100 percent tobacco-free’ policies
Surveys of students and employees at Moorhead and St. Kate’s showed that about three-quarters favored a strict tobacco-free policy. Opposition typically comes from smokers, but some nonsmokers at St. Kate’s also objected it out of concern for the rights of smokers at the private Catholic women’s institution.
How has Kelly responded to that argument?
“There’s no law that gives people the right to smoke,” she said. On the other hand, laws protect nonsmokers and science is on their side. “We know there’s no safe level of secondhand-smoke exposure.”
Minnesota’s Clean Indoor Air Act of 1975 and the Freedom to Breathe Act of 2007, which amended the earlier statute, banned smoking in public places, public meetings, and indoor workplaces including bars and restaurants. (Here’s a summary of the laws.)
Among the “toughest questions” St. Kate’s considered before adopting its new policy were the impact of student smokers opting for off-campus housing instead of dormitories and the safety of resident students if they wanted to smoke in the middle of the night, Kelly said.
“In the end, the committee decided that if it’s going to be a tobacco-free campus, there’s not going to be an exception,” she said. Like other tobacco-free campuses, St. Kate’s student health center will offer smoking-cessation programs.
Another issue that comes up for tobacco-free campuses is enforcement. St. Kate’s policy leans toward the “honor system,” Kelly said, explaining that officials “can’t be everywhere.” Even so, St. Kate’s has provisions ranging from verbal or written warnings to suspension and expulsion for students and suspension and termination for employees.
“I honestly can’t imagine … somebody being just completely defiant,” she said.
Minnesota State relies on “self-enforcement,” Grimm said.
“People tell each other to put it out,” she said. Still, the policy spells out the consequences, which don’t include suspension, expulsion and termination. “If it’s a student in violation, it goes to the judicial affairs office. If staff or faculty, it would go to a supervisor, and if it’s someone not associated with the campus, campus security will deal with it.”
So, how’s compliance so far?
“People are really good about self-enforcing,” she said. “They just know we’re a tobacco-free campus … but there’s always that small percentage that don’t know. But for the most part, people are really good about it.”
To readers: Does anyone else out there think that “100 percent tobacco-free” is redundant and/or inaccurate? The college student in my household says yes: “Something can’t be 98 percent tobacco-free.”