MU to go smoke-free Monday

Saturday, June 29, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:04 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 1, 2013
Big Butt Recycling event prepares MU to be smoke-free by the July 1 deadline. The ban applies to any tobacco products and to e-cigarettes. Advocates say they'll rely on education and peer enforcement to ensure people comply.

COLUMBIA — The smell of cigarette smoke lingered in the parking lot behind MU's Stewart Hall long after the smoker had gone back inside. Cigarette butts lay scattered across a corner of the lot on the east side of the campus, some old and faded, others freshly stomped with ashes near by.

Bucket in her purple latex-gloved hand, Diane Oerly searched the grounds around the Fine Arts Annex and Waters and Stewart halls picking up every cigarette butt she could find. She dug through the brush to find even more hidden among the twigs and leaves.

Participating in cleanups is nothing new for Oerly, an MU information technology employee and president of Friends of Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. She has attended other park and stream cleanups in the area and has been heavily involved with the local Missouri Stream Team Association.

"Since Mizzou is going smoke-free, it's like, if we pick up the butts, they shouldn't come back," Oerly said. "When you do cleanups and stream cleanups, you always know that they'll be replaced. Although, it's getting better."

MU will be going entirely smoke-free Monday, when a campus-wide ban on smoking cigarettes, cigars, hookahs, pipes, water pipes and e-cigarettes will take effect. All students, staff, faculty and visitors are expected to comply with the policy while on campus, but MU will rely mostly on education and peer educators to enforce the ban. MU also will offer help to those who want to take the opportunity to quit smoking.

A bold step

In December 2008, MU made its first move toward a smoke-free campus by banning smoking within 20 feet of any building entrance and setting a goal of a smoke-free campus by 2014. Designated smoking areas were put in place in July 2011. In November, students, staff and faculty decided to expedite the move to a smoke-free campus by moving the target date up six months from Jan. 1, 2014.

The MU Sustainability Office coordinated with the local Missouri Stream Team Association and Landscape Services to host the Big Butt Recycling event Friday morning in preparation for the smoking ban. Volunteers targeted areas across campus that were heavily littered with butts.

"Part of the idea was to have the campus as clean as possible before the urns go away," sustainability coordinator Steve Burdic said.

Many of the volunteers were staff, but there are plans for other cleanups involving mostly students in the fall. The cigarette butts will be sent to TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based company that will recycle the filters into plastic furniture, Burdic said.

A former smoker, Oerly thinks making the MU campus completely smoke-free is a "bold step."

"This is something that's changed a lot," Oerly said. "When I started working at the university we were all issued ash trays, and we smoked at our desks. So now, not only can you not smoke at your desk, you can't smoke on the campus."

MU senior Andrew Jones, who smokes, thinks the new policy is a "waste of time."

“I agree with the first move to make designated smoking areas, but to make it completely smoke-free is stupid,” Jones said.

He thinks many people will continue to smoke even after being told to stop.

“It might cause less people right in front of the library (a popular place to smoke) but as soon as winter hits, people will be back by the doors,” Jones said.

MU employee Jeffrey Friel, another smoker, agreed with the prediction that students will not stop smoking, but he thinks faculty and staff will comply.

"I've talked to a couple (students), and they said they're here for an education and that it's not illegal to smoke," he said.

Friel has been smoking for 25 years and feels indifferent about the policy. While he has no plans to quit, he plans to follow the rules and not smoke on campus. He said he figured it was going to happen eventually.

"It's a sign of the times," he said.

Tiffany Bowman, coordinator at the MU Wellness Resource Center, thinks a complete ban on smoking will make the rules more clear for everyone.

"The majority of people want to comply with the policy and may violate out of ignorance of the policy, not because they are attempting to be difficult," Bowman said.

Having designated smoking areas made it hard for people to identify precise boundaries. Bowman cited Speakers Circle, where a small area designated for smoking grew over time to envelop the entire area.

“I think we’ll see less of a problem now because we actually have a really clear cut 'no smoking on campus' policy. You’ll have to go off campus to smoke,” she said.

Peer educators, students who present programs on everything from fitness and nutrition to responsible alcohol use, have been trained on how to approach somebody they see violating the anti-smoking policy.

“It’s meant to be educational and courteous," Bowman said. "It’s not meant to be any type of punishment. It’s strictly to remind people of the policy."

Educating MU students and staff on the policy is important, as is educating visitors the campus will see throughout the year.

“It’s the type of education that’s going to need to be ongoing,” Bowman said. “People are going to come onto campus and not know that’s our policy, and we need to remind them.”

"We expect that there will be a learning phase and a reminder phase," Kevin Everett, associate professor in the MU School of Medicine and a member of the Smoke-Free Mizzou Committee, said. "We're going to try to do some stuff working with student organizations handing out fliers that announce the policy in the next week or so. We’ll probably have to do it again in the fall."

Policy violations

Violations of the policy will be dealt with case by case.

“A goal would be to treat it like any other policy violation on campus and use progressive discipline strategies that are already apart of university policy," Everett said.

This means that students would go through the Office of Student Conduct, as they would with any other policy violation. Faculty and staff would meet with their supervisor to discuss the policy and what the next step will be.

“We already have a progressive discipline process that applies to any policy,” said Laura Schopp, director of Healthy for Life: T.E. Atkins University of Missouri Wellness Program.

Fining is not part of the policy. Everett said the Smoke-Free Mizzou Committee would like to see how the current enforcement plan works before making any changes.

“At this point, we're working towards strategies that achieve following the policy first, and our committee is going to continue to monitor to see what we need to do as time goes on," Everett said.

Help with kicking the habit

The Wellness Resource Center hasn’t seen an influx of people wanting to use its smoking cessation program, but its staff is prepared if that happens. Smoke-Free Mizzou isn't about getting people to quit smoking, but the programs are an option, Bowman said.

"People don’t have to quit smoking if they don’t want to," Everett said. "Certainly we’ve made resources available for people to do that, but there are strategies that they can use to not smoke while they are on the campus."

If students or staff quit through the center, they can receive up to 12 weeks of free nicotine gum, lozenges or patches and six to seven office visits.

"We are committed to supporting any employees who want to use this policy change as an opportunity to quit smoking," Schopp said. "The university offers tobacco cessation through its medical benefit plans and pharmacy plan, which are the primary resources for cessation support. We have also partnered with other groups such as Phoenix House programs and the Columbia/Boone County Health Department to provide additional resources."

Efforts throughout the year

Everett recognizes that large events that bring a lot of visitors to campus, such as MU football games, will be a challenging time to enforce the policy.

"People, for the most part, are very good at following university guidelines," Everett said.

There are plans with the Athletics Department to put announcements on the Jumbotron at Memorial Stadium and to place signs throughout the stadium reminding people not to smoke.

They also have sent the policy to football season ticket holders, and information has gone out to new students and their families in the Summer Welcome packets, so many people will know about the policy well in advance, Schopp said.

"It’s not in place yet, but there are discussions about having patches and gum available in concession areas so that people will be able to, during those temporary hours at a football game, stay in compliance with the policy," Everett said.

At this point, there are no plans to enforce the policy during tailgate events.

Other universities

Campus smoking bans are nothing new. More than 1,100 colleges and universities throughout the country have smoke-free or tobacco-free policies, according to the Americans for NonSmokers Rights.

“We’ve talked a lot with people from the University of Kentucky,” Everett said. “They have a tobacco-free campus that is similar in size and nature to our campus.”

The University of Arkansas campus is tobacco-free, and students who break the rules are subject to fines of $50 to $500.

"The policy works — very well, actually," Arkansas student Laura Cochran said. "I can count specific times on one hand the times I have seen smoking on campus. Those times were either custodians in the back corner of a building or a visitor on campus. Never students."

Chapman Williams, another Arkansas student, agreed.

"If you look around campus, you will see very little smoking," he said. "Most of the students walk off campus to smoke, which isn't very far. I guess that means the policy is working."

Oklahoma State University has a compliance policy closer to MU's. It relies more on student involvement to enforce the rules. Repeat offenders can be fined $10 for the second violation and $50 for the third violation. Appeals work the same as a parking ticket appeal.

Oklahoma State junior Taylor Spooner thinks that students might be more willing to accept the rules if they understand them.

"I think that many students do not take the 'no smoking' rule seriously and feel as if it is an empty threat," she said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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