Tobacco Debate Still Smolders

Mike Klarin

re-KC_tobacco2FRONTPAGENorthern Michigan University has been tobacco free for nine weeks and counting. While many students have positive feelings about the ban, others are not as enthusiastic.

“It’s really nice to be able to walk around campus and not smell people smoking,” Eric Hoffmeister, freshman undeclared major, said. “I have asthma, so it does bother me to even smell smoke.”

The tobacco ban, which was announced last year, took effect on Aug. 1. The provisions of the ban prohibit the use of all tobacco on campus property, with the exception of the golf course. Students are allowed to smoke in their own cars, as long as the windows are rolled up.

Plans for a tobacco ban at NMU have been ongoing for at least 15 years, said Cindy Paavola, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives. But it wasn’t until 2006 that administrators, students and faculty started to seriously consider making the change.

When the latest effort to institute a tobacco ban took form last year, the administration felt that they would find less resistance from the student body, Paavola said. The administration thought that since today’s student demographic had not experienced the same smoking culture that students had in 2006, more students would ultimately support a campus wide tobacco ban.

        “Six or seven years ago, our newest students were young kids,” Paavola said. “They’ve grown up with tougher smoking laws in Michigan, and they’ve grown up in a time period where you are not allowed to smoke in public places.”

        Administrators formed a committee and researched the impact a potential ban would have on students, Paavola said. Some were concerned that the ban would affect potential admissions or the rental of university facilities by the community. Discussions with potential new students and local residents, the committee learned that a ban could actually have a positive effect.

        The administration welcomed student input throughout the decision process, Paavola said. ASNMU held public forums and conducted surveys. In spite of that, some students have reported mixed feelings about whether or not their input was taken seriously.

“They held a vote on [the ban],” senior political science major Brad Kitada said. “But whether or not that vote accurately expresses everyone’s opinion on campus is another issue.”

Kitada contends that the university could have explored other options besides banning tobacco completely. He also said that efforts in the past to limit where a person can use tobacco were not enforced. Kitada said he would have liked designated smoking areas installed instead.

        Paavola said the administration sought estimates and calculated what it would cost to install and maintain such smoking shelters, and ultimately decided the expense was too high.

“We had to ask ourselves if we thought it was fair to ask students who choose not to smoke to pay for those smoking areas.” Paavola said.

For now, some students have taken to the sidewalks and grassy areas off campus property when they want to enjoy a cigarette. An NMU email last week encouraged students to pick up after themselves and to not cause unnecessary commotion in residential areas.

“Sometimes I’ll walk across campus just to go smoke,” Seth Kuklinski, sophomore criminal justice major, said. “I wish [the school] would put up some ashtrays at least because we have no choice but to throw them on the ground now.”

But installing ashtrays is problematic, Paavola said. Sidewalks are city property: the city is responsible for installing and maintaining receptacles. Administrators are working to determine which areas are frequented most and will relay that information to the city.

Overall, Paavola said things are going better than expected with the new policy and most students seem to be following the rules.

“We anticipated more bumps, but it’s been relatively smooth so far.” Paavola said. “That’s a tribute to everyone on campus, including the smokers.”