There’s nothing out of the ordinary about seeing someone smoking on campus. With more than 21,000 students, plus faculty and staff at UTD, the occasional smoker is only to be expected. However, many of the people who smoke on campus do so in direct violation of the tobacco-free policy.
“The tobacco-free zone isn’t followed at all. There are people smoking all the time,” said Casey Sublett, student affairs chair for Student Government.
The current tobacco-free policy was created in part due to a mandate by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT. All organizations that receive more than $25,000 of funding from CPRIT must have a tobacco-free policy, and UTD is one such institution.
The policy prohibits the use of tobacco products in university buildings or vehicles and within 10 meters (about 33 feet) of the entrances of any campus building. Additionally, the parking lots, walkways and sidewalks adjacent to Berkner Hall and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Laboratory are required to be completely tobacco-free zones, as CPRIT-funded research takes place in these two buildings.
The problem occurs when it comes to enforcement. Though there are signs reminding everyone not to smoke in certain areas, there are no real penalties. The enforcement section of the official Tobacco Free Policy states, “students, staff and faculty are empowered to respectfully and courteously inform others of this policy to enhance awareness and encourage compliance.”
If that doesn’t work, policy violations can be reported to the Office of Administration and repeated violations may result in disciplinary action, but this is an infrequent occurrence.
“Over the last year, we have received fewer than 10 reports,” said the Vice President for Administration Calvin Jamison. “Most have been more general and refer to an area of campus rather than an individual’s name. For example, concerns were voiced regarding smoking around NSERL when construction of the Bioengineering and Sciences Building began. Smokers had been displaced due to construction fencing. We have since increased signage around the building and held a town hall meeting to discuss alternative smoking areas that are in compliance with CPRIT requirements.”
CPRIT relies completely on the institutions it funds to deal with the issue of enforcement.
“We ask the institutions, the institutions tell us they’re doing it and we believe it,” said CPRIT Senior Communication Specialist Ellen Read. “We can’t go to the institutions. We don’t have the staff. That’s their problem.”
The reason that CPRIT created these requirements was to further its goal of cancer prevention. Its tobacco-free policy statement explains that it wants to work with organizations that are serious about fighting cancer.
“What we were basically saying when we put out this requirement is that if we are funding this research, and it is going on in Building X, there cannot be any smoking in Building X or the surrounding areas. Many institutions have used that as a jumping-off point,” Read said. “There are some things you can’t control, but stopping tobacco use is controllable.”
Though some may believe that the tobacco free policy might as well be ignored, SG is attempting to have it seriously enforced.
“We are in the process of working with the administration on this,” Sublett said. “As far as students correcting each other or other people on campus, I don’t see that being successful. So right now, I just don’t think it’s enforced at all.”
The SG student affairs committee is in the process of scheduling a walkthrough of campus with administration in order to demonstrate how many smokers disregard the policy. The committee hopes that a firsthand look will encourage administration to take steps for stricter enforcement.
“Awareness and education are key to compliance, and we are working with SG on an initiative to help the campus community be more mindful of this policy,” Jamison said. “We also place signs on the buildings throughout campus, introduce the policy at new student, faculty and staff orientations, and offer cessation programs for students and employees in an effort to provide proactive reminders and encourage compliance.”
In addition to dealing with the issue of enforcement, SG hopes to expand the policy in response to student complaints. Sublett and her committee have compiled a list of problem spots on campus where they are hoping to reduce smoking. These problem spots, such as the courtyard at JSOM and the breezeways and halls between apartment units, include areas where smoking is technically allowed but causes discomfort to students.
While many students defy the tobacco-free policy, others do their best to abide by it. Several student smokers said they felt neutral about the policy and only break it unintentionally.
Assistant professor Jeremiah Gassensmith, despite being a smoker himself, said, “I think that the whole campus should be tobacco free. It’s more of a health benefit to everybody if smokers simply abstain from smoking while on campus.”
Many universities nationwide have adopted 100 percent tobacco-free campuses. In Texas, Abilene Christian University, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Texas at Austin are just a few examples. The enforcement policies at UTA and UT are similar to the enforcement policies currently in place at UTD. Voluntary compliance is expected, and students, faculty and visitors are encouraged to ask people not to smoke on campus if they see it occur. However, at ACU, tobacco usage is a more serious violation and can result in a fine. ACU has been a completely tobacco-free campus since 1994, long before the recent trend.
On the other side of the issue, a nationwide student organization called Young Americans for Liberty, or YAL, has been protesting campus smoking bans for the past several years. In November 2011, the University of North Texas chapter protested a smoking ban referendum by handing out free cigarettes and obtaining signatures on a petition. Though the referendum failed to pass, UNT became a smoke-free campus in 2013 anyway.
However, it appears that UTD will not become a completely tobacco-free campus anytime soon.
“UTD chose to keep a tobacco-free building policy over a tobacco-free campus because it has been a better fit for the needs of our campus community at this time,” Jamison said.