It’s been exactly one year since smoking in bars, restaurants and other establishments became illegal in Minnesota, and some campuses across the state are taking this one step further and going entirely smoke free.
The University is now conducting a study on being smoke free and may join the ranks.
Boynton Health Service , in conjunction with the Office of Student Affairs, is developing a campus-wide smoking survey to administer to students, faculty and staff during the first week of October, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart said.
The survey’s purpose is to get a broad sampling of people’s attitudes toward smoking, Rinehart said.
“We would be reluctant to adopt a policy that no one would support,” he said.
Banning smoking on campus would require discussion, but Rinehart said there would financial benefit as well.
Tobacco-related illnesses account for 9 to 10 percent of the University's health benefits expenditures for faculty and staff, he said. This amounts to approximately $11 million annually.
“It’s not going to make or break the University, but it is certainly something we are looking at in this study,” he said.
Rinehart said he also feels a smoking ban could reduce the number of smokers on campus and may entice other universities to consider a ban.
Stephen Hecht, professor and chairman of the University’s Cancer Prevention Center , said smoke-free legislation in California and Massachusetts has resulted in smoking rates below 20 percent in those states.
Dave Golden, public health and marketing director at Boynton, said there is a surprisingly low number of students who smoke regularly on campus.
A recent Boynton survey found that 96 percent of University undergraduates don’t use tobacco on a daily basis; 80 percent report they never use tobacco products. This is the lowest rate since tobacco-use data was first collected in 1992.
“This generation of students is not like any other,” Golden said. “They’ve really got it figured out.”
But Golden said there are safety issues that could arise with such a policy.
“Is it realistic to have somebody that really wants to smoke to have to go off campus at night to have a cigarette?” he said. “There is a safety issue there.”
Rinehart also said a ban would bring questions regarding campus boundaries.
Margaret Johnson, English studies junior and smoker, said a campus smoking ban would be difficult to implement and control because campus is so large.
“You would probably still see students smoking on campus,” Johnson said. “But I think if smokers had designated smoking areas people would respect that.”
The University’s current policy prohibits smoking in all facilities and within 25 feet of building entrances.
Universities across the state are going smoke-free. Minnesota State University Moorhead went smoke-free in January , and the University of Minnesota, Crookston, campus will be smoke-free by January 2009.
The University of Minnesota, Duluth campus went smoke-free in September 2007 .
However, Dori Becker, a health educator at UMD Health Services, said she noticed students having a hard time adjusting.
“Last spring I still saw people smoking around campus,” she said. “You wouldn’t have even known there was a smoking policy in place.”
Becker said in retrospect, she wishes there would have been an educational campaign to prepare student smokers for a smoke-free campus.
Both Rinehart and Golden agreed that programs would need to be available to students if a smoking ban were to be put in place.
“We have very affective and powerful cessation programs through Boynton that help those who are addicted to nicotine,” Rinehart said. “The question is how much advanced warning should we give smokers so they can go through these programs.”
Rinehart said the smoke-free campus study should be completed by the first of the year, and there should be recommendations for the University by spring. There would also be a six-month waiting period between making a decision and putting a policy in place.