New smoking ban being discussed at WCU

(Editor’s Note: The following is a part-one of an ongoing series about the state of tobacco at Western Carolina University.)

Western Carolina University already has a 50-foot smoking ban around buildings, but they may move one step further by eliminating smoking from campus altogether. For now, those wanting to smoke can still light up, 50 feet away from all buildings. Those students wanting to avoid smoke can walk around. For those wanting to quit, they have choices. For those wanting to protest the elimination of smoking on campus, they can petition.

Beginning this year, North Carolina outlawed all smoking inside of government buildings, cars, in bars and most restaurants. WCU beat the NC Assembly however, passing a 50-ft smoke free ban around buildings in June of 2008.

The ban, rather than immediately stopping smoking, seems to have raised more questions than it has given answers. Should RA’s be responsible for enforcing the ban? Should the campus administration focus on use of illegal substances rather than legal? Is it the right of the student to choose to smoke or the right of the state/campus to regulate it?

To Frank, a non-smoking English major, the ban hasn’t really changed the habits of smokers. For example, the normal smoking areas outside of Coulter remain as they always were. Still, he understands the pros of a ban. Smokers can no longer “[hug] the building edge,” as they once could. But still, he believes that banning smoking entirely on campus is a big extreme—college students should be able to make their own choices.

For others, the results of the ban have been divided. For Austin Seamans, the ban has made a noticeable change, even if he hasn’t noticed anyone be cited or warned for violating it.

“I honestly have not seen as many smokers as when I first arrived my freshmen year,” Seamans says.

For one RA, who requested anonymity, the ban hasn’t changed much. Student’s still smoke around the dorms and a few are cited, but there hasn’t been much of a difference.

Of the students interviewed, most claimed not to have noticed many changes to the restaurants in the area. It seems to be business as usual, with little or no interruption. And most students seem to believe that it should be up to the state to regulate smoking on university campus.

“Smoking should be regulated by the state, this because it is a state wide problem, not just specific places. It is also easier to regulate it with the state than the university in general,” says Reed Jones, a management student and non-smoker.

Soon, it will be an issue of whether to ban smoking on campus entirely. Why? Josh Cotton, SGA president, explains the issue.

“I think the SGA believes that smoking should be eliminated from campus entirely, to be honest, because Chapel Hill is smoke free,” Cotton said. “I wish that I had a say in the senate, but I am in the executive branch. Over half of my executive staff smokes, so just because the senate is opting for this legislation, it does not mean that the whole SGA supports it,” he added. According to Cotton, Vanessa Olson, a senate member was spearheading the legislation for eliminating smoking on campus. Olson was unavailable for comment for this story.

For those dreading the elimination of smoking on campus though, the legislation has been put aside for the time being. Daniel Dorsey, Greek organizations senator and non-smoker, said that the issue had been shelved until seven SGA spots were filled. Dorsey personally believes that students should have the right to smoke if they wish.
“If this resolution gets passed, it takes away my right to smoke a cigarette if I chose too,” Dorsey said. He also believes that the 50 foot rule should be enforced more often, before banning smoking entirely on campus.

For Thomas Withers, a history major and smoker, the issue becomes one of safety and student right. Withers believes that eliminating smoking on campus entirely would make it unsafe for those students who have to travel off-campus to smoke. He also wonders right of the students would be taken next.

“[They’re] harming themselves more than anyone else,” Withers said. Withers can be found on Facebook and has started a petition against banning campus smoking that he says over 260 students have signed already.

For students/faculty who wish to quit smoking, the CRC on campus offers WHEE Quitters. What is WHEE Quitters? Karrie Joseph, MPH, CHES and Wellness Coordinator, explains that it is “a smoking cessation program and was implemented to offer support for smokers who would like to quit.”

“Statistics show that 70% of adult smokers want to quit and offering cessation resources is one way to assist in the process,” she added.

Because the program is new, word is still spreading on campus.

“Since this is a new program, we are still trying to get the word out about it,” Joseph said. Students interested can receive more information about the program by visiting the CRC.

Whatever side of the smoking/non-smoking argument one may fall on, there are many contrasting opinions.