College considers smoking ban

By April DeJarlais

Discourses on controversial topics that are far away from Macalester are a hallmark of the college. But some Macalester voices believe the time has arrived for a conversation close to home, concerning the elimination of smoking on campus.No concrete plans have been made, and Associate Dean for Student Services Denise Ward emphasized that the matter is “not urgent.”

Minnesota has made large moves towards becoming a smoke-free state. The 2007 Freedom to Breathe Act prohibited smoking in workplaces and indoor public spaces.

In August, the Minnesota Department of Health gave $47 million in state grants to combat chronic diseases.

Ramsey County received more than $3.5 million to promote physical activity, nutrition, and specifically a tobacco-free policy at all post-secondary schools.

The county has partnered with the Association for Nonsmokers – Minnesota to pursue its goals of making more areas non-smoking.

In January, prior to the release of the state grants, Ramsey County’s Department of Public Health released a report entitled “Smoke-free Academic Campuses.” The report said nearly 30 percent of college students smoke, and one-fourth of college smokers started after age 19.

As of October, The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation listed 365 American colleges and universities as smoke-free, with 12 being in Minnesota. The University of St. Thomas Minneapolis campus and College of St. Catherine in St. Paul have recently implemented smoke-free policies.

Ward suggested that the campus conversation about becoming smoke-free should begin with a reevaluation of campus values. Besides the health benefits of a smoke-free campus, Macalester is a proponent of sustainability and pledges to be carbon neutral by 2025.

As the image of Macalester becomes greener and the school gains notoriety, Ward questions whether smoking will “link in with the [college’s] ethos.”

A non-smoking policy would not be mandated at Macalester without extensive research on the community and student body. The goal for the college this year is to gather the data needed to hold campus conversations on becoming smoke-free, and to get a “baseline of where we’re at [on the issue],” Ward said.

Banning smoking on college campuses differs from non-school public bans. Since many students live on campus, they cannot leave “work” at the end of the day to go to a private home. A proposal to make living and working spaces non-smoking will require Macalester students, faculty and staff to rethink what they consider to be rights and what is important to the community.

If smoking was banned and students simply walked across the campus boundaries to smoke, protests may surface from Macalester’s residential neighbors. In the case of a ban, however, the college would not leave students to cope by themselves, Ward said. Funds would be appropriated for giving students support on quitting-a lesson learned from other campuses that have banned smoking.

Ward cautioned against premature campus protests or victory rallies at this point in the process of becoming smoke-free, and stressed that the present is “all about discussion.