The question of whether tobacco use should be allowed on the campus of Pittsburg State University is not a new one.
In 1995, students brought a proposal to the Student Government Association recommending the PSU campus be smoke/tobacco-free.
In the years since, the campus has made changes, including banning tobacco inside buildings and offering the Great Gorilla Smokeout in November 2010.
The issue gained momentum again in the spring of 2012 when a student referendum showed 77 percent approval for a tobacco-free campus.
“Then we developed a task force and we set together to move forward and gather information,” associate vice president Chris Kelly said.
“You’ve got a pretty active task force here,” he added.
Pittsburg State University was awarded a $25,000 grant by the Kansas Health Foundation to help with the process, and they used it to prepare printed materials and to help to pay for a consultant.
Ty Patterson, the CEO of the National Center for Tobacco Policy, was hired to help the campus to identify successes and pitfalls of policy.
The university then began gathering information and listening to input and concerns from various groups of people.
“Really this today is one more formal session to gather together as we make that formal recommendation,” Kelly said. The final report and recommendation will be presented to university president Steve Scott on May 17.
Alicia Mason, an assistant professor in the communication department, then shared the findings of the research.
“We’ve been very fortunate ... to establish a research lab in our department that allows us to work on projects like this,” she said.
Demographics of the 1,265 who completed the survey closely represented the gender and ethnicity breakdowns at PSU. Filling out surveys were 838 students, 159 faculty members, 242 staff members and 10 alumni.
Page 2 of 4 - “Overall, there was a strong agreement that this is an issue of great importance at PSU,” Mason said.
She said those surveyed indicated disagreement that there is an individual right to use tobacco on the campus, a neutral reaction toward whether the current policy is effective and agreement that those on campus face exposure to secondhand smoke and that it is an important issue.
A question of whether something should be done elicited stronger agreement, and strong agreement was voiced that the administration has the responsibility to address the issue and that the environmental impact and litter are concerns.
Mason also outlined responses by tobacco users about where they use tobacco and non-users indicating where they are exposed to tobacco.
“If there is a policy change in any way, how is it going to affect your relationship with the university,” was another question asked, and 49.8 percent said no change, 34.6 percent said they are more likely to stay, 9.2 percent said they are less likely to stay and 6.4 percent preferred not to answer.
In the end, about 70 percent of those who took the survey indicated they would be likely to support a new policy.
“Every stakeholder group indicates it’s moving toward a direction of supporting a policy about tobacco use on the campus,” Mason said.
Patterson then spoke and shared his knowledge on the issue
He said the biggest question about smoke- or tobacco-free campuses is how to enforce the policies.
“If we made our campus tobacco-free, how would we enforce it?” he asked.
He said one of the major reasons campuses are considering going smoke-free is because efforts to prevent smoking around doorway perimeters have been ineffective.
“When you decide you want to make the campus totally tobacco-free, you go about it in an entirely different way,” Patterson said.
He said this also includes a university commitment to the new culture.
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“Make sure when you do arrive at that decision that you commit across the university to enforce the culture,” he said. “Whatever you decide you want to do, you’ll find an enforcement policy.”
Those in attendance were invited to join the discussion, and questions were asked about the tobacco use by members of the task force and the percentage of reported users in the survey.
Patterson said any campus is going to have a lot more people who don’t use tobacco than do, and he said even if 25 percent of the campus community used tobacco, many would say they want to quit and would be supportive of more restrictive policies that would help them with that goal.
“They see the policy as a way to help them do that,” Patterson said.
University president Steve Scott asked about the differences in states where the legislature mandates campuses will be smoke-free and states where it is a choice, and Patterson said generally non-compliance problems surface when the initiative doesn’t come from the local community.
Student Larry Overman noted that tobacco used to be banned from campuses and were allowed again post-World War II as a stress relief for veterans.
He noted that cigarettes are drugs and questioned whether it is advisable to take away a drug at a time of stress, knowing the instability that may result.
“Why would we want to increase the stress of students, especially when they’re faced with stressful situations such as tests and finals?” Overman asked.
Patterson said it becomes a balance between the individual stress level and the adverse impact of tobacco use those around it.
Faculty member Dan Ferguson asked about the make-up of the task force, which includes current and past tobacco users, and about notification and enforcement.
Patterson said respect is key.
“Treat every person who violates this policy like they’re a visitor to the campus and didn’t know it (the policy),” Patterson said.
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He then outlined how to approach and educate users on why the policy is in place.
“Treat people with respect, and after a while people will respond,” Patterson said.
The conversation is ongoing, and continues to take place on Facebook at groups/psutobacco and on Twitter at #pittstatetobacco.