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Wellness Center Initiative Proposes Tobacco-Free Campus

A tobacco-free campus initiative, SMCM Free to Breathe, aims to make St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) one of many tobacco and smoke-free college campuses in the state. The initiative has released a draft policy on the Wellness Center website, and is seeking feedback from the campus community. SMCM is one of few public colleges in the state of Maryland without a smoke-free campus policy as of 2018.

The initiative stems from a grant given to SMCM from the CVS Tobacco Free Generation Campus Initiative (TFGCI), an effort of the American Cancer Society to cut down tobacco use on college campuses nationwide. SMCM joins Loyola University Maryland as a second-cohort grantee of TFGCI. Loyola University Maryland is set to become smoke free in July of 2019.

The draft policy, which is available on the Wellness Center’s website, would ban the use of tobacco products, defined as “all forms of tobacco, including but not limited to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, water pipes (hookah), beedi/bidis, electronic cigarettes, JUUL, vape, and smokeless tobacco products (e.g., chew, snuff, dip, twist, etc..)” on all property owned, operated, leased, occupied, or controlled by the College, including in personal vehicles on campus property.

“Tobacco use is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in our country every year,” Stephenie Gutridge-Snode, Assistant Director of the Wellness Center told TPN, explaining that the initiative’s goal is to help campus community members avoid the negative effects of tobacco smoking and secondhand smoke. “These changes seem almost impossible for some students, but it’s the right thing to do to create the most healthy campus possible for our students to learn in, our employees to work in, and our visitors to come see as well.”

Ashantee Barnwell, a senior who works as a fellow for the Free to Breathe initiative, discussed how smoking on campus affects nonsmokers. “I’m sure you know what the health risks are by doing it yourself, but you also have to remember that there are people on this campus with serious health conditions, and you’re not being fair to them.” Barnwell also gave an account of how second-hand smoke affects her personally. “I have a history of being around smokers, and I have a stomach sensitivity to smoke, where if I smell smoke a lot, I get nauseous and sometimes that equals to vomiting later.”

Students have also showed concern over the enforcement of the tobacco free policy on the college’s staff. “There are people who say it’s not fair to force this on the staff, but we’re talking to the staff just like we’re talking to students,” Barnwell explained. The initiative’s task force was advised by a staff member who shared the staff’s thoughts and concerns on the policy.

The draft policy aims for a 100% tobacco free campus, meaning that all forms of tobacco use will be banned on campus, including electronic smoking devices and smokeless tobacco. As of now, the policy draft does not include any provisions for dedicated smoking areas on campus. “The research that has been done in this area has shown that maintaining [smoking areas] in the long term has not been effective,” Gutridge-Snode explained, but cited that a few colleges that have implemented a smoke free policy have started with smoking zones and gradually phased them out. As of now, the Wellness Center is still gauging feedback from the campus to clarify the details of the policy. “We have ashtrays connected to a lot of buildings on our campus, but that’s not where the cigarette butts end up. There’s no real way to gauge how much anticipated success we could have with smoking zones.”

Barnwell clarified that the blurred lines of smoking areas might not be followed, much like the rarely-followed College policy that states one must stay 25 feet away from buildings when smoking. “You still see people smoking by doorways where people have to walk through, and you still see people smoking in buildings. I think we want to make it completely clear that it’s on all campus property.

As far as enforcing the policy, Gutridge-Snode clarified that she hopes the policy could be enforced through community standards and communication rather than a more heavy-handed approach. “Some [colleges that are considered smoke/tobacco free] charge a citation of $75, which I don’t think is congruent with the atmosphere we have on our our campus,” Gutridge-Snode explained, “but then a lot of them also say ‘we expect our campus community to respect the policies of our campus and treat each other with civility and respect.’ That would be my best vision for us.”

Proponents of SMCM Free to Breathe presented at SGA in early October, and will also be presenting to the faculty and staff senates this month. Gutridge-Snode also presented to Residence Life in early November. Following the SGA presentation, some students expressed mixed feelings on the policy, while some were very enthusiastic.  “I don’t think it’s a realistic thing to do,” Alec Bernstein, SGA Senator for the Townhouses explained, “I don’t smoke, I don’t like the smell of tobacco, it’s disgusting, and I prefer not to, but to suggest that other people can’t do it, or to punish them with like tickets or some sort of student conduct for having a cigarette is an unrealistic expectation.”

SGA President Andrew Messick expressed that ”My initial reaction [to the policy] was ‘it’s about time.’” Messick noted that SMCM is the last of many public colleges to go tobacco free. Messick also explained that the SGA’s role would be receiving feedback and clarifying the policy to students, especially those upset over the actions. “It’s going to be really weird if we say we want to be smoke free, and one of the most liberal colleges in Maryland pushes back,” Messick stated of possible resistance, “I don’t see it being as big of an issue as the other policies, but I do see it being contentious.”

Regarding his concerns about the draft policy, Messick stated that “what bothered me is that there was no phasing it in, it’s just a very hard deadline.” Messick also showed concern that “there’s no designated smoking areas as a way to phase out smoking on campus,” citing that other campuses that have gone smoke-free still have designated smoking areas.

The tobacco free initiative gaining traction follows immense student concern over alcohol and amplified music policy enforcement earlier in the semester. Both Gutridge-Snode and Messick mentioned that the initiative could come under extra scrutiny with timing being so close to the alcohol enforcement guidelines. “I don’t think they could have helped it, I don’t think there was any other way to plan it,” “I think they would have been a little better received had it not been for such strong student backlash to speaker and alcohol policies.”

Students have brought up the idea of going smoke-free many times over past years. “This was here before us, and so it’s going to be here after us, the only reason it’s going now is because now we have the funding to do it,” Barnwell said of the initiative, “People may see this as us pushing this on the campus, when really this was already here, it’s just now being pushed forward.”

The Wellness Center is welcoming feedback to the draft policy, which can be viewed online. There is currently no set timeline for the policy to be put in place, but it will be discussed with the Board of Trustees this coming semester.

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