Students discuss potential tobacco ban

Justin Manford, junior in economics, and Aaron Swank, graduate student in public health and president of Breathe Free K-State, discuss the potential campus-wide tobacco ban during a roundtable on Feb. 2, 2016. (George Walker | The Collegian)

A push to change the university’s tobacco policy originated with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, students were told at a K-State Student Governing Association event Tuesday. Part of the incentive to change the tobacco policy is a $25,000 grant from the department.

Students discussed a potential tobacco ban at a “campus conversation” of roundtable, small-group discussion in the K-State Student Union Ballroom.

Alex Bangert, sophomore in accounting and student affairs director for the SGA executive committee, said the department put some pressure on K-State to change its tobacco policies at a meeting in fall 2015. Andy Hurtig, senior in accounting and student body president, introduced the legislation after the meeting, Bangert said.

At the time the original legislation was introduced, no public mention was made about the department’s influence on the proposed policy change.

That original legislation was postponed because several members of SGA thought it was wise to slow the process down and gauge public opinion before any final action, Bangert said. The problem, she said, was that the legislation “jumped the gun.”

To meet the grant requirements, however, the designated smoking areas would have to be moved to the undefined “outskirts” of campus, Bangert said. Money from the grant would have specific guidelines for proper use, such as marketing funds and resources for smokers.

Bangert said any policy change would likely be “cutting the middle of campus out” and creating so-called “designated smoking areas” on the outskirts of campus.

“I don’t agree with putting (designated smoking areas) on the outskirts just because it’s kind of an ostracization thing,” Justin Manford, junior in economics, said. “But if you put them on the outskirts, I promise if you build them, they will come. If you put them on the outskirts, people are going to go there to smoke, but they won’t be happy about it.”

Manford said that while he does not think that all social changes are good, smokers should be better about policing themselves and respecting nonsmokers while on campus.

“I am addicted to (smoking), but I don’t need it walking to campus, walking from class to class,” Manford said. “I don’t need it that bad. Good God. If anyone says they need it, I’ll tell you right now, I am a pack-a-day smoker and have been for 10 years, and I don’t. And if you do, you need more help than just Nicorette gum.”

He also said that as a tobacco user himself, all tobacco users should be respectful of other people.

“I guess that’s just one of those social things,” Manford said. “Don’t be a dick. You don’t smoke right in front of a door because you’re not the only one using it.”

Manford also said he will tell other smokers to use designated smoking areas.

“I see people walking from class to class smoking a cigarette, and I’m like, ‘Dude, put it out. Don’t be a dick,'” Manford said.

One of the key discussion points for smokers and nonsmokers alike was respect for others.

“It’s not about getting you to quit,” Aaron Swank, graduate student in public health and president of Breathe Free K-State, said. “It’s about asking you to respect the community and everyone in it.”

Manford said he supported implementing a policy that would identify and publicize designated smoking areas, but said a completely smoke-free policy might infringe on people’s “individual autonomy.”

Swank and Manford both said they agreed that some students, such as agriculture majors and international students, may come from a background where public use of tobacco is acceptable.

“The international students, if they’re not used to designated smoking areas, if they don’t understand what it means, I feel like that could be one of the problems,” Andrea Hopkins, senior in industrial engineering and SGA secretary, said.

It was also suggested that funds from the grant could be used to educate students on tobacco policy. Once designated smoking areas are set up, students can also direct smokers who are unaware of the policy to the designated areas.

“Respect is a two-way street,” Swank said. “So we do have to respect your right to choose to smoke or whatever; however, what we can do is enforce in a respectful manner and just show them (where to find designated smoking areas).”

Carlos Flores, junior in agricultural economics and SGA senator, said he does not think any students intentionally break the university’s smoking policy.

“The way I see it is, I don’t think anyone in K-State wants to break the rules, especially smokers,” Flores said. “They just don’t know where those areas are, especially international students.”

Bangert said the entire legislation process will add up to be a recommendation to the university president.

“President (Kirk Schulz) decides what he wants to do, period,” Bangert said. “So this is just what the students’ input is … so that we can show him that people care. But at the end of the day, it is just a recommendation.”

Jonathan Peuchen, junior in mechanical engineering and SGA senator, said Schulz and a committee will make the final decision.

“I talked with several of the faculty in my department of kinesiology and in human nutrition, and some of them are fairly decently close to President Schulz, and it sounds like he’s on board,” Swank said. “Whatever we recommend, it sounds like he’s going to do. And so if we recommend a total tobacco ban, we’re going to have a total tobacco ban.”

Manford said he doubted a complete ban would work.

“If you do a total tobacco ban, I promise you that there will be people standing up in the free-speech zone lighting up cigarettes,” Manford said.

A “total ban,” however, would not actually mean a “total ban,” Bangert said.

“The total tobacco ban, as in you would go towards the outskirts, it would have a map drawn and it would have specific (designated smoking) areas towards the outskirts,” Bangert said. “So the inside (of campus) would be a tobacco ban.”

The map of these areas would be decided by a committee later in the process. That committee would also determine policy for campus parking lots at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Some SGA members said one of the reasons the legislation was held back last semester was the ambiguous wording, including that a total tobacco ban meant that there would be designated smoking areas on the outskirts of campus.

“I think that the key to marketing, the key to making this successful, is really really really being selective with the language that you use,” Swank said. “And making sure that you’re saying, ‘This isn’t about necessarily controlling people’s behavior,’ although it’s a policy change and that’s what it’s meant to do. But it’s really just about respecting your K-State family, and we are a family here.”

Smokeless tobacco and vaping would also be included in a policy change.

“It doesn’t bother me, but it bothers some people,” Michael Fox, senior in economics, said. “And it can have adverse health effects on certain people, like people with asthma or with some sort of pulmonary condition where they can’t take in any kind of polluted or synthesized air.”

There was also dialogue about how a policy change would affect people in vehicles on campus parking lots and streets. Discussion centered around vehicle owner rights versus university property.

“You’re getting into some pretty wicked state laws there because the state of Kansas recognizes an individual’s ‘castle’ in the state as their ‘home, dwelling or vehicle,'” Manford said.

Parking lot tobacco policy was overshadowed, however, by the perceived realities of on-campus parking.

“The parking lots are kind of on the outskirts anyways,” Hopkins said. “With the K-State 2025 Plan, there basically won’t be any on-campus parking, so I don’t feel like that’s going to be an issue anyways.”

According to a handout provided at the event, the university’s current policy prohibits smoking “within 30 feet of marked entrances to university buildings.

Bangert said any policy implemented would be “completely self-enforced.”

The event was part of the SGA timeline for the possible legislation. There will be a live forum Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. that will also be live-streamed. Legislation is set to be introduced at the Feb. 11 SGA meeting and will be voted on at the Feb. 18 meeting, which will also be live-streamed.

A stratified survey of about 2,500 people was conducted by the Division of Communications and Marketing to obtain public opinions on the tobacco policy. The results of the survey will be announced at the Feb. 9 forum.

Jason Tidd graduated from Kansas State University's Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May 2017. He was the spring 2017 editor-in-chief, fall 2016 news editor and spring 2016 assistant news editor. While at K-State, Jason played baritone in the Pride of Wildcat Land marching band.