Malecka: ASU’s tobacco-free policy — what a conundrum - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Malecka: ASU’s tobacco-free policy — what a conundrum

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Corey Malecka is a junior studying journalism at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and an intern with the East Valley Tribune.

Posted: Saturday, August 24, 2013 7:14 am | Updated: 11:03 am, Sun Aug 25, 2013.

Arizona State University has banned the use of tobacco products on its property, and its enforcement is something difficult to imagine in the bustling university towns at the heart of communities like Tempe, southeast Mesa and Downtown Phoenix.

The “Tobacco-Free Campus” ostracizes users of tobacco products – namely easy-to-spot smokers – off the Sun Devils’ four primary campuses, as well as other property owned, rented or leased by the university.

The move is aligned with the Tobacco-free College Campus initiative, a national program under the guise of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ASU is now among the nearly 800 educational institutions that have implemented such a policy, according to a tally by the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.

But of that number, only about 100 universities have a similar enforcement policy at ASU, said Kevin Salcido, associate VP and chief HR officer.

So how exactly is the university prepared to enforce and discipline violators?

Enforcement at ASU is dependent on student, staff and visitor participation in a voluntary peer-to-peer model.

ASU Police Department officials have made it clear that it was never the university’s intention to have its police department enforce it.

In reality, anyone can enforce it — even chain smokers if they felt so compelled. Because the program is voluntary, no university official can make someone enforce the tobacco ban; but if you respect the rule of law, then it would make sense that you would be obliged to.

Yet, while the intent to promote a healthy student body is valiant, the idea of having those on campus serve as the sort-of-but-not-really-official enforcement arm is troubling.

To patrol the university grounds by moral authority, rather than legal authority, is – pun intended – just blowing smoke.

With around 73,000 students enrolled, according to the university, enforcement would include trial-and-error, noted Justin Zeien, chair of the Health and Counseling Student Action Committee and Well Devils member

And, chances are, there will be sufficient errors.

Maricopa County Community College District’s Breathe Easy Initiative has a tobacco-free policy that began July 1, 2012. The MCCCD police handle compliance, said Andrew Tucker, district manager of communications for MCCCD.

Tucker asserted MCCCD does not punish violators on a first offense, but neither will ASU. It must be successful because MCCCD has had no write-ups in violation of its policy, only reminders by public safety.

But at ASU, say someone oversteps the purview of the policy’s “soft” enforcement by means of threats or harassment; Salcido admitted that abuse and misconduct of enforcement is a possibility. And to the same end, smokers may even be noncompliant just for the sake of turning their noses up at those attempting to shoo them to the borderlands.

Though, with only a handful of resources and one of the largest university communities in the nation to watch over, a smoking policy shouldn’t be left to university law enforcement, either.

So if the peer-to-peer system isn’t the way to go, and the policy would have been too much weight on the shoulders of an understandably busy ASU police arm, what’s the solution?

The American College Health Association conducted a survey at ASU for the 2011 National College Health Assessment, finding 86.4 percent of students do not smoke cigarettes. Basic arithmetic reveals only 9,928 ASU students smoke cigarettes. Sure, nearly 10,000 students seem like enough of a sample to invoke a tobacco-free policy; but that’s spread over four large campuses, numerous other properties, and not all students are on campus at the same time – nor lighting up together.

With those numbers in play – again considering the sheer size of ASU as a whole – wouldn’t a series of designated, conspicuously-marked smoking zones on each corner of each campus, allowing a compromise between smokers and non-smokers, be a better option? A campus libertarian group, Students for Liberty, fought against the policy change and supported such a move as a best-case consolation. The group’s logic: it would localize littering, and anyone who chose to could avoid the vicinity at will.

Surely $38,700 could have been a good starting point to help zone out smokers. That amount is what the university preliminarily allocated for small regulatory signage around ASU facilities, according to a facilities development and management official.

Or how about another $8,130? That’s what ASU’s Office of Wellness and Health Promotion had requested to spend on “Well Devils” T-shirts over the past three years from IGNITE – that’s Influence, Guide, Network, for Intercollegiate Tobacco Education, a county program for area colleges and universities to promote the dangers of smoking and to help tobacco users quit. Well Devils is mainly a student organization advocating for a healthy mind, body, and community, and the funds were devoted as such “because Well Devils live and breathe tobacco-free,” said Karen Moses, director of ASU Wellness.

In explaining the new ASU policy, director of ASU Health Services and HCSAC adviser Allan Markus said “mostly it’s for students, faculty and staff who made the life choice not to smoke.”

That’s a telling statement. It’s OK that the majority stands to benefit from such a decision, but in this case, it didn’t have to be at the expense of the minority – that being the tobacco users.

What’s clear is that the ASU community missed an opportunity to foster actual engagement between differing viewpoints on a controversial issue, and that the community could have come up with a solution that benefited all parties involved.

I might have been one to help enforce the policy if it were truly at the benefit of the entire student body. But as it sits now, I plan to keep a clean nose, and hope to find an ashtray off campus.

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