New task force to investigate possible smoking ban

By Maya Pisel

Diverse opinions about health risks, personal freedom, and social responsibility are likely to be voiced in the coming months as a new group asks for community input on college tobacco policy. Last semester, Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre appointed a Tobacco Task Force to look at tobacco use on campus. This month, that task force will hold their first meeting, Associate Dean for Student Services Denise Ward said in an e-mail. The task force is composed of two students and several representatives from Facilities Management, High Winds, the Health & Wellness Center, Business Services, and the Civic Engagement Center.

“The goals of the task force for this spring are generally to explore the possibility of a tobacco-free environment at Mac, identify concerns related to a tobacco-free campus, gather data about our community that might inform the process, engage the campus community in conversation, and make a recommendation for policy/program to [Hamre], who will present it to Senior Staff,” Ward wrote.

“The move to discuss going smoke-free or tobacco-free on college campuses has been growing in recent years and is a regular part of health and wellness goals nationally,” Ward wrote.

That discussion became more prominent this year when the State of Minnesota granted $47 million to local and county public health departments working to decrease preventable illness. As a recipient of Statewide Health Improvement Project (SHIP) funds, “one of the goals for Ramsey County/ St. Paul Public Health SHIP is to work with postsecondary institutions to become tobacco-free,” Ward wrote.

“Given the national discussion, state-wide and county initiatives, along with the Macalester ethos of sustainability and general profile of healthy behaviors, it seemed to be the right time to bring the issue up to the Macalester community,” Ward wrote.

Sophomore Dustin Studelska, a student member of the tobacco task force and a Health Promotions Assistant at the Health and Wellness Center, said he expects “there will be fairly significant conversation” among community members when the task force explores the possibility of a tobacco-free campus, or, in other words a smoking ban.

However, he emphasized that “the goal of our task force is not to excite people about a ban, it’s just to gather student [and community] opinion.” He anticipates that, after it begins meeting, the task force will facilitate an open community forum, distribute surveys, and conduct other information-gathering activities.

“I can’t foresee [a new policy] happening this semester at all. However, that being said, we want to start the conversation among smokers and nonsmokers,” Studelska said.

Ward echoed Studelska, writing in an e-mail, “It’s way too early to talk about a ban, much less penalties for violation. We hope to have some open discussions on the topic of tobacco on campus involving any interested community members as this moves along and will be transparent in all aspects of the process.”

Studelska also emphasized that he is sensitive to the complexity of tobacco use, and he is careful not to make assumptions: “I don’t want to say smokers would be immediately opposed to [a ban], and I think there are many non-smokers who could see it as a bad thing just as easily. It’s such a touchy subject. There are so many ins and outs to it. so we’ll try to consider everything before making any kind of decision.”

Emma Buechs ’13 was excited to see more discussion about smoking on campus.

“I’m constantly surprised to see members of this community so avid in their smoking habits,” she said.

Mention of a ban could be a “hot button” issue, Studelska said, but the intent of the task force is not to make people angry.

“The goal isn’t to single out smokers and make them feel unwanted or even just generally bad about their habit,” Studelska said. Rather, a ban would be “for the good of the campus if that’s what the research indicates.