SGA holds televised forum on tobacco

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Alex Bangert, sophomore in open option, and Carlos Flores, junior in agriculture economics, explain their stances on the proposed tobacco ban on campus at the SGA forum live stream on Feb. 9, 2015. (Zach Radabaugh | The Collegian)

Members of the K-State Student Governing Association Smoking and Tobacco Engagement Committee answered calls, emails and tweets from students and viewers about proposed legislation banning tobacco on campus at a special televised forum Tuesday evening in Dole Hall.

The televised student forum, sponsored by SGA, sought to gain student input on the proposed legislation, which would recommend the prohibition of tobacco use throughout the entire campus to president Kirk Schulz. Although SGA members answered questions from students, the event itself was not open to students.

“The reason we decided to hold a live forum was so that we could cap off all of the input that we’ve been getting for the campus smoking policy,” Jonathan Peuchen, sophomore in mechanical engineering and co-chair of the tobacco committee, said. “This was a chance for us to present to the students what we as a committee thought that the policy should become.”

SGA also discussed the results of a recent survey sent out to students seeking the student body’s input on the issue.

“When the bill was introduced back in November, we didn’t know if students would be in favor of the bill, and we wanted a decision based on facts, so we sent out a survey through email,” Student Sen. Carlos Flores, junior in agricultural economics, said. “The majority of students were in favor of a smoking ban but not a tobacco ban.”

The committee members also presented on what they had heard from other universities in the state. They found that other campuses have had no issues implementing and enforcing bans on tobacco products.

One caller to the program asked SGA representatives why chewing tobacco was included in the proposed prohibition, citing its lack of secondhand effects. Flores said this was a reason that he was personally against the blanket ban on tobacco products.

“That’s actually one of the reasons why I’m against the tobacco ban, and probably a reason why students in the College of Agriculture are against it as well,” Flores said.

Michael Fox, senior in economics and at-large SGA member, said the banning of chewing tobacco was an issue of respect.

“A lot of our discussion focused on respect,” Fox said. “For us, the (chewing) tobacco side of the argument came into more of a matter of respect for your fellow students.”

Alex Bangert, sophomore in accounting and student affairs director for SGA, said the inclusion of chewing tobacco in the proposed ban was due to issues with maintenance workers who clean up after chewing tobacco that is improperly disposed.

“(The inclusion of chewing tobacco in the ban) came from respect for the maintenance crews and for the buildings,” Bangert said. “Because we have a lot of people who are missing the trash cans, who are spitting in the urinals or the drinking fountains, and so we did this out of respect to (the maintenance workers), in the sense that it’s not their jobs to clean that up, but it is our job to respect the buildings.”

Bangert said the proposed ban on tobacco products would be entirely self-enforced, at least at first.

“We’d be looking at self-enforcement first, then we’d review it throughout the year,” Bangert said. “Other schools have not seen enough pushback to do anything about it. A lot of people really respond to the ‘respect’ thing, and people care about the people around them.”

Currently, Kansas state law prohibits smoking within all university buildings. K-State policy includes vehicles, as well as within 30 feet of any university building entrance, citing smoking as a “public health and fire hazard.”

The proposed legislation would allow SGA to present an official recommendation to prohibit use of tobacco products on campus to Schulz. Taking the recommendation into account, Schulz would then make the official decision on whether or not to ban tobacco use.

Additionally, Schulz would determine if the university would make funds available to allow for designated smoking zones on the edges of campus, as the proposed SGA legislation would not cover funds for doing so without the assistance of the university, Peuchen said.

In the proposed legislation, SGA would recommend implementing a new tobacco use policy by Jan. 1, 2017. Bangert said this would allow the university time to examine how to transition into the new policy.

“They’ll inform students about what’s going on,” Bangert said. “This is not a change that will happen overnight. We will talk to student groups and make sure that we’re accommodating everyone, so if there is a problem, we have the resources for (these students).”

If the bill passes and Schulz acts on the recommendation to ban products on campus, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will provide a $25,000 grant to help ease the transition and make programs available for students who use tobacco, Peuchen said.

Bangert said the committee is not sure what the potential effects of the proposed legislation might be on student smokers.

“That’s something we’re still researching, and that’s something we’d talk about after the legislation passes,” Bangert said. “But that whole yearlong process is time we’d take to talk to (student smokers) and see what they want out of this and what we can do to help them in the best way we can.”

At the end of the forum, the committee members invited students to voice their input on the issue before or at the senate vote on the topic.

“Our student senate meetings are all open to the public,” Flores said.

“There’s a couple of other ways that you can get involved,” Peuchen said. “You can email the student senators for your college, and you can also speak to your senators when you see them around campus. Let them know your opinion and what you think about these issues.”

SGA will vote on the issue during a senate meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 18 in the Big 12 Room in the K-State Student Union.

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I’m Rafael Garcia, assistant news editor at the Collegian. I’m a sophomore in journalism, president of the Honors House and an Edgerley-Franklin Urban Leader. I come from Emporia, Kansas, home of the Twinkie, world’s best tasting tap water and journalist William Allen White. I’m passionate about journalism because I love people and their stories, and I want to find and tell those stories here on campus. In my spare time, I’m a Chihuahua wrangler, doughnut enthusiast, Netflix watcher and racquetball player.