A smoke-free campus? Maybe, but not just yet

Mesa Aupperlee

How far is 25 feet?

It’s coming. Well, maybe.

The subject of turning JSC into a smoke-free campus has come up in College Council meetings during the past few years, and the idea seems to be taking hold among some elements at the college.

Creating a smoke-free campus isn’t something unheard of. According to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, at least 826 colleges or universities are now smoke-free, meaning smoking is banned from all campus locations.

Some students feel a smoke-free campus would be beneficial but are ambivalent about such a change. “I think that people who do smoke, it’s their right to be able to smoke,” said Erin Keyes, a residential student. “[But]I don’t think it contributes to a healthy campus environment. I have asthma and it can really act up when I encounter smoke.”

Keyes suggested alternative ways to reduce conflict, including a designated parking lot, or a covered building for smokers.

“I’ve sometimes walked behind a person who is smoking,” she said. “And the smoke flies in my face because I’m walking behind them and that’s not a good thing when you’re walking across campus and you have to smell the cigarette smoke all the time.” Keyes suggested if the campus isn’t smoke-free, then rules should be more authoritative.

Although Johnson’s plans are to create a healthy atmosphere, a smoke-free campus is a negative change for some. Johnson student Derrick Spalding believes smoking is a choice people make that Johnson shouldn’t try to change. “Speaking from a smoker’s point of view,” he said, “it is wrong and degrading taking something they have the legal right to do.”

Dean of Students Dave Bergh wants to assure students that although Johnson is moving towards becoming smoke-free, it is not going to be an overnight process.

Figuring out how to get students and faculty comfortable enforcing the existing rules is the first step. “I don’t want the burden of enforcement to all fall on Public Safety,” Bergh said. “I think Public Safety has a lot of responsibility in their role of keeping the campus safe. I would want to make the case that if we went smoke-free, it would really become everybody’s responsibility to enforce it.”

Johnson has certainly become stricter with its smoking policies over time. Previously smoking was allowed in residence halls. Now rules require that people smoke outside of buildings, at least 25 feet from all windows and entryways. At one time, smoking was even permitted in classrooms.

Policies differ somewhat among the VSC campuses. For example, Lyndon has banned smoking from all areas except designated parking lots, while Castleton requires students to smoke outside of buildings. Vermont Technical College, like Johnson, insists that you stand at least 25 feet away from buildings while smoking.

To make telling fellow students to move farther away from the building less scary, Bergh suggested that RAs encourage students living in residence halls to be more assertive. Although the problem doesn’t rest solely with residential students, they are a logical group with which to start.

Bergh suggested that residential advisors need to make smoking regulations clear during the mandatory floor meetings. These efforts can strengthen the efforts made to enforce school smoking policies.

“Enforcement doesn’t always have to mean somebody getting written up,” said Bergh. “It can mean that we empower other community members, including students, to feel comfortable saying something to somebody who’s smoking within 25 feet of the building…I feel that if we all took it upon ourselves to say something, then that would go a long way to alleviating the problem.”

Bergh emphasized that becoming a smoke-free campus would take a few years. “What I do know about the smoke-free movement is that for colleges to do that, the recommended process is that it be done over a multi-year period,” he said. “You don’t just one day say, ‘we’re smoke-free as of tomorrow.’ You need to build up educational efforts to let people know that you’re planning on that and you also really need to have the obligation to help offer programs for people who want to stop smoking as part of the preparation for that.”