One month in, Macalester evaluates smoking ban

On Jan. 1, 2015, Macalester became a tobacco-free campus. According to the policy, the previous recommendation of smoking 25 feet away from buildings was replaced by the total elimination of tobacco on “all property owned, leased, rented, contracted, maintained, or controlled by Macalester College.”

Associate Dean of Student Services Denise Ward, who supervises the Health and Wellness Center, clarified the definition.

“Basically, any property that Macalester owns should be considered tobacco-free,” Ward said. “Because of our location we have a lot of city sidewalks that go around the buildings. Those are all considered non-Macalester property. So, if somebody wants to smoke they can step onto a city sidewalk.”
Essentially, the campus-wide ban is meant to ensure that the major areas of student concentration are free from tobacco smoke.

Samuel Doten ’16 expressed his dissatisfaction with the quick rejection of the previous 25-foot rule.

“I liked the former 25-foot rule. I wish more people respected it. So I think the lack of enforcement and respect of the 25-foot rule led us to the current ban. Did anyone consider alternative strategies to make the 25-foot rule more effective?” Doten said.

Since the 25-foot rule was instead substituted with a total ban, there have been concerns over the enforceability of the new policy and the effectiveness of its implementation.

“The thought of the committee and [others was] to whenever possible not make it something that has to be enforced or [where] people are going to get fined, but rather to encourage responsibility to the community. We’d prefer not to set up a punitive situation. Obviously, if somebody flagrantly refuses to react […] there are community standards,” Ward said.

The role of Residence Assistants in the enforcement of the policy has also been questioned. John Mohoang ’17, an RA on Turck 1, expressed his concern over the issue not being properly presented to RAs.

“I hoped [the ban] was going to be covered during winter break training, but they didn’t bring it up. However, I made a follow-up with my hall director. She replied that our role hasn’t changed that much, but [remained as] redirecting people mostly. Go off-campus if you want to smoke,” Mohoang said. “Only in cases of flagrant persistent resistance would further measures be taken. Then I can write them up.”

Residence Hall Director Amanda-Rae Barboza confirmed Mohoang’s statement, stressing the idea of positive reinforcement behind the policy and not that of punishment.

“Primarily we want to remind folks of the new policy. Res Life does not have any desire to make these conduct cases unless students are uncooperative and disrespectful,” Barboza said.

Ward promised to take steps to ensure the RAs would be properly informed, recognizing that “we need to get them on board.”

It is expected that respect towards one another, sense of responsibility and cooperation will be the driving forces for adherence to the policy, according to Sarah Birkholz ’15, who was the student representative on a college committee about the tobacco ban. Birkholz said the policy’s goal is to promote overall healthier lifestyles on campus.

The tobacco-free initiative has increasingly spread among the colleges across the country since 2003 as a commitment to sustainability and social justice.

“It’s not saying you can’t use tobacco. It’s just making a statement in terms of the environmental health and personal health,” Ward said. “It’s consistent with Macalester’s ethos and other community concerns. To me, it’s more consistent with Macalester. It’s a bigger picture than smokers now can’t smoke on campus.”

Birkholz pointed out that a number of students felt struck by the rapidness of the policy’s adoption and excluded from the decision-making.

“Where was the discussion about whether this was a good idea? No current students had an opportunity to weigh in on this policy. And apparently, few students knew that this policy was coming,” Doten said. “If this same policy was implemented with a greater effort to engage members of the community, I would have a more positive attitude.”

When asked to comment on students’ concerns with the lack of community discussion Ward said, “I think students need to know that it’s been a long time coming and there’s been a lot of student voices in it along the way. It’s been a multi-year process. The students who are currently on campus might not recognize that.”

A major part of the policy is to gradually support and cultivate tobacco-free lifestyle among the students, faculty and staff. Birkholz brought attention to a number of available smoking cessation resources, which HWC hope to further expand and improve. Ward noted that since the inaction of the ban the number of those utilizing the resources has significantly increased.

Doten himself admitted the utility of the resources and initiatives taken by HWC.

“I sincerely appreciate some of the follow-up initiatives that have taken place in wake of the ban’s implementation. I believe such efforts are a minimum requirement if a ban is implemented and I plan to take advantage of those resources, if grudgingly.”