Inches beyond the gates of the University of Oregon campus, students mingle, enjoying a smoke break during their off time. The puffs of smoke create ripples through the sun’s rays on the warm June summer afternoon. The flicker of lighters occasionally crackles through the chatter of socializing students. The smoke, filled with chemicals such as nicotine and carbon monoxide, creates a pungent wall which surrounds the University of Oregon.
The hazy borders of campus arose after the university adopted campuswide smoke-free policies on September 1st, 2012. Inside the brick gates of 13th and Kincaid, smokers are no longer welcome to light up or use any tobacco products on campus premises.
With the emergence of new health studies done on the effects of tobacco over the past 50 years, public perception of tobacco has dramatically shifted. From it’s height as the sidekick of Marlboro men during the second half of the 20th century, smoking is now seen as more addictive than heroin.
With an increase in public health concern, cigarette and tobacco use has steadily been on the decline since the 1990’s as people become more aware of the dangers of smoking. During this time, the United States has seen smoking banned from restaurant and business premises, as well as public parks.
As research on second hand smoke becomes prevalent, organizations such as the Americans for Nonsmokers Rights are insisting various organizations nationwide adopt smoke-free initiatives as public health policy.
A 2007 report by the Surgeon General indicates that over 250 cancer causing chemicals are found in secondhand smoke, as well as other toxic metals and gases. According to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), the chemical cotinine is created during the processing of nicotine during smoking and is used to measure the effects of secondhand smoke in non-smokers.
From 1988-1991, 87.9% of nonsmokers had measurable levels of cotinine. During the years of 1999-2000, levels of measurable cotinine in nonsmokers had dropped to 52.5%, while in 2007-2008 it was found to be at 40.1%. The CDC cites the decrease in cotinine levels among nonsmokers is due to the growing number of laws that ban smoking in workplaces and public places.
As of April, the Americans for Nonsmokers Rights (ANR) reported at least 1,159 university or college campuses have gone 100% smoke-free, of which 783 have gone 100% tobacco free as well. Some campuses allow the use of smokeless tobacco products such as chew or electronic cigarettes, however many universities are seeking to convince students to give up tobacco use altogether.
Paula Staight, Director of Health Promotion at the University of Oregon’s Health Center, spends most of her time planning out the best route to a healthy campus. While Staight began working at the University of Oregon’s Health Center in 2001, it was in 2004 when her department first took steps to reduce tobacco use among students by pushing to prohibit the sale of tobacco products on campus. Since then, Staight has lead the way in introducing smoke free policies to the University of Oregon.
Staight suggests the past ten years have fostered a growing discussion amongst college campuses to go smoke-free. Staight says national health conferences as well as “studies we participated in [from 2003-2007] got the conversation started in our region.”
Staight worked with several smoke-free universities across the nation to determine best practices for the University of Oregon, including Boise State University and the University of Kentucky. “It really is a huge trend. It’s kind of that tipping point theory, and that we’ve tipped.”
“Now that the University of Oregon has gone [smoke-free], the UO is looked up to. People took notice when we announced that we were going smoke free.” says Staight. “We have agreed to be a mentor campus, so anybody that is interested in getting any help can contact me and I’ll give them whatever information I have.” she said.
One of the central challenges of introducing smoke-free policies is not only the enforcement of those policies, but determining how enforcement is carried out to violators on campus. “This year is an educational year, so it’s just a reminder.” says Staight. “If I see someone, I’ll say ‘Hey, did you know this University is a smoke-free campus?’ and most people say they didn’t know, say sorry, and put their cigarette out.” she said.
Kelly McIver, University of Oregon Police Department Communications Director and Public Information Officer, indicates that UOPD’s involvement is based “much more around compliance and awareness than enforcement. Our function is not to be the smoking police on campus.” McIver says it would be difficult for officers to hold violators accountable, as students would have to essentially be caught in the act.
“It’s not the kind of thing that somebody could make a report of after the fact and then you could reliably go and cite someone,” he said. The University has taken extra steps to ensure that proper care is taken when dealing with smoke-free policy violators. Faculty and UOPD officers have been instructed to politely inquire as to whether smoke-free policy violators are aware of the ban, opting for raising awareness rather than incrimination.
Jennifer Summers, Director of Substance Abuse Prevention and Student Success at the University of Oregon is engaged in her third smoke-free university campaign. Previously at University of Idaho and Boise State University, Summers coordinates with various University of Oregon staff to determine the UO’s best path to a smoke-free campus. Summers says, “It’s really about understanding that it’s for the health and safety of our campus community, and that the smoker’s on campus are really a smaller percentage.”
For Summers, a big part of moving the University of Oregon forward was communicating with the student body on when the policy changes would take effect. With some involvement from Nike Inc. and outside organizations, the campaign to announce campus going smoke-free came about during UO’s 2011 football season.
On October 6th, 2011, approximately 4,000 green t-shirts emblazoned with “STFU Smoke & Tobacco Free University Fall 2012” were passed out to students at Autzen Stadium free of charge. While STFU stands for Smoke & Tobacco Free University, the internet derived acronym is more recognizable as a rude way of telling others to be quiet (Shut The F*ck Up). According to Summers, Nike hoped to create a powerful brand concept for colleges across the nation to utilize. Nike saw “a huge opportunity of more schools going smoke and tobacco free” Summers said, and decided to create a package of sorts.
The campaign was “cutting edge and a little risky.” said Summers, “But students loved it. I thought it was great.”
For smokers however, seeing the acronym STFU could understood as an offensive statement. “I guess it would seem indignant for me, but I guess it was more comical.” says Dillon Scott, Senior at the University of Oregon. Scott, who considers himself a daily smoker, smokes between 5-15 cigarettes per day. Starting at the age of 16, Scott’s first cigarette came from his group of friends. “Freshman year of high school, I would bet a friend of mine at games of Starcraft with cigarettes.” says Scott. “I would always beat him, so I smoked a lot of cigarettes.”
For smokers like Scott, abiding by smoke-free policies have become an acceptable nuisance. “Yeah, I think that it’s a legitimate concern if somebody doesn’t want to take in secondhand smoke. To me though, that doesn’t entail moralizing the issue where smokers have to defend themselves.” says Scott.
“I don’t smoke that often, so campus going smoke free doesn’t bother me that much.” says Travis Stewart, University of Oregon Senior. “ I do think that it’s messed up though. They didn’t really put it up for a vote, and kind of snuck it in last school year.”
While Scott and Stewart follow the new policies, they believe the perception of smokers by non-smokers is moving in an uneasy direction. “Previously, people just smoked, and that’s it. But now, because of the whole practical consideration of it, it’s a moralized issue where the smoker has to defend themselves on a moral level why it’s okay for them to smoke.” says Scott. “If somebody comes up to you and asks ‘why do you smoke?’ Why do I have to defend myself from that position?”
“It’s a moralizing of the issue saying that smoking is bad, you are bad for smoking, and you can’t do it here.” says Scott. “It’s one thing to be standing in a crowd of people, smoking a cigarette walking to class. It’s another thing to be sitting in an open field, nobody’s around, and you’re smoking.”
While he understands the concern of non-smokers and secondhand smoke, Scott believes the University of Oregon could’ve handled it differently. “In a way it’s almost worse. Before I could sit under a tree, it’s a large campus, with nobody around, no problem.” says Scott. “Now because I can’t smoke anywhere on campus, and neither can anyone else, they all flock to the nearest exit of campus. And as soon as you come in campus, you get bombarded with smoke. Every time you go through there, someone is going to be smoking.”
With the borders of campus now housing smokers at every corner, the next step for Staight, Summers, and the UOPD is to work with city government and the local community. With businesses like Caspian’s and Starbucks prohibiting smoking within 25 ft of their entrances, students may see smokers pushed even further away from campus. While ASUO is currently voting to reinstate smoking stations on the edges of campus, only time will show the University of Oregon’s success, and how they can share that success with the growing number of campuses transitioning to smoke-free environments.
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The Gateways of Smoke
For this assignment, we had to research a local topic and conduct interviews with local authorities on the subject. I chose to cover the banning of tobacco products on the University of Oregon campus. While most students have stopped smoking on campus, a haze of smoke surrounds the entrances to campus property.