Tobacco Task Force helps Mac prepare for a smoke-free campus

By Katie Zager

After a semester of meetings and discussions, the Tobacco Task Force has come up with several recommendations to be passed on to Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre and other senior administrators early next week.The Tobacco Task Force consisted of current, former and non-smokers from the student body, faculty and staff. Their purpose was to examine the issue of smoking on campus, decide whether or not Macalester should do something-and, if so, decide what. Over the course of the semester they examined the issue of smoking from a variety of angles, from researching smokers’ rights to examining best practice policies on other campuses across the country.

They also surveyed Macalester students. According to Denise Ward, associate dean for students services, almost half of Macalester’s students, faculty and staff responded, about 14.5% of who identified as smokers.

“There was a significant split on whether Macalester should implement policies that protect campus community members from exposure to secondhand smoke; there was a similar split on opinion that imposing a tobacco-free policy is an infringement on individual rights,” Ward explained in an email.

However, Macalester students generally agreed that secondhand smoke is a health issue, and strongly agreed that tobacco litter is a negative element on campus. These survey results were taken into account when making the final recommendations.

Tom Welna, committee member and director of the Macalester High Winds fund, summed up the recommendations.

“The goal is to be tobacco free by fall of 2013,” he said. “In the meantime, through employment or health and wellness, the college will need to put resources into cessation to help people quit. In August, there would be a perimeter ban on be added to the existing tobacco policy. The focus will be on helping people who want to quit, quit.”

“The discussion was about what we want our campus to look like in the future, for future generations,” Welna added. “The tone was how to move us to a healthier place.”

Welna noted that there are many benefits to decreasing smoking at Macalester, ranging from lower medical insurance costs, to graduating healthier alumni.

Waiting until 2013 to implement a ban would also give admissions plenty of time to inform prospective students.

Although the ban is still hypothetical, and would not go into effect for several years, some students are still concerned.

“The amount of kids I know that smoke outside the library late at night because they’re stressed out.I don’t think it [a ban] is going to be enforceable,” said Rachel Colberg-Parseghian. “I feel like we’re going to have people coming up to you, saying you need to stop smoking. If you’re over 18, you’re allowed to make your own decisions. It’s the principle.”

Other students, however, support the recommendations.

“I think something relatively simple like the perimeter ban would go a long way in making non-smokers feel more comfortable,” Katie Snitzer ’12 said.

Ward emphasized that the decision is not being made lightly.

“The task force is concerned that the recommendations reflect a long term view of the issue rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the topic and that it reflect Macalester’s ethos,” Ward said.

Ultimately, however, it will be up to the administration to decide if it wants to adapt all, some, or none of these recommendations.