Get your butt out of here: Smokers feel the squeeze


New signage directs smokers to parking lots

Beginning in July 2017, the Vermont State Colleges System (VSC) implemented policy 314, which requires each of its five subsidiaries to enforce and maintain a tobacco-free campus by July 1, 2018.


Under the new policy, tobacco use in any form is now strictly confined to designated areas located throughout the outer ring of campus, of which Johnson State College (JSC) has nine. It defines tobacco as any manufactured product containing nicotine or tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, chew, dip, shisha, and electronic cigarettes.


JSC tasked its interim dean of students, Michele Whitmore, with taking the lead in developing the Tobacco-Free Implementation Team (TFIT) to create a work plan for the school to become tobacco-free before the deadline set by the VSC.


“We felt that in order to make this transition successful for all, we needed a year to change the culture on campus,” she said. “This led us to the decision to provide smoke zones, put together several campus cessation opportunities, and create a marketing campaign to further educate our campus.”


The campaign, dubbed “#CleanAirCampus”, began shortly after the start of the 2017 fall semester. “You will see posters, stickers, tabling events, videos, and PSAs throughout the year that speak to the health, financial, and environmental impacts of first and second-hand smoke,” Whitmore said. “Additionally, the college has partnered with the American Cancer Society and Healthy Lamoille Valley to provide opportunities and incentives to help those who wish to quit.”


The impetus behind the tobacco-free movement is largely from a power point entitled “Vermont Tobacco Free Initiative” which was presented to the VSC Board of Trustees Committee in Apr. 2016 by Dr. Henry Chen, Commissioner for the Vermont Department of Health. “A significant portion of Dr. Chen’s presentation focused on the overwhelming evidence that many people start smoking in college and that tobacco-free policies are an effective way to decrease smoking rates among 18-26 year olds,” said Whitmore.


JSC Director of Public Safety Mike Palagonia, who is also a member of TFIT, spoke glowingly of the campus’ willingness to quickly adopt and adjust to policy 314. “So far, I haven’t seen anyone violating the policy since the day it was implemented back in July when we put the no smoking signs up,” he said. “My feeling is that people are immediately respecting it, and I think that there’s enough people happy about the change that it will be a community effort.”


Palagonia and his staff are primarily responsible for enforcing the ban on tobacco. “If and when we see people smoking outside of the zones, we will start with a conversation, making sure they are aware of the new rules,” he said. “Our emphasis is on education and cessation, and I think that approaching it from a position of understanding is key.”


If this initial approach is unsuccessful and a person continues to be noncompliant, JSC is prepared to take additional steps. “Ultimately, a violation would fall under the college’s code of conduct, which could result appropriate sanctions,” Palagonia said. “But at the same time, it is hard for us to go catch a smoker who has been reported to us. It’s not like we’re going to start handing out tickets.”


JSC senior Kate Abdel-Fatah sees both sides on the issue of tobacco on campus. “We are all adults in college and we have the right to smoke,” she said. “But we also have the right to clean air and there is abundant research proving the harmful effects of smoking. This combination makes the ban tricky, but overall it seems like the right direction to go.”


Another senior at JSC, Kait Boucher, is less neutral on the issue. “I completely agree with the smoking ban because students don’t want cigarette smoke in their face while walking through campus,” she said.
However, neither Abdel-Fatah, nor Boucher are tobacco users. A third JSC student, who identifies as a smoker and wished to remain anonymous, was not as supportive. “I totally understand what they are trying to do here with the ban and I am fine with having to go to one of the zones to smoke, it’s a small campus,” the student said. “But I am not okay with the eventual full-on prohibition, seeing how tobacco is legal under federal and state law. If I am smoking in the designated area or in my car, I am only harming myself, and that’s my choice.”


Regardless of method of consumption or individual opinion, the end of tobacco use on campus is approaching rapidly for all. The transitional period will be over on July 1, 2018 and VSC policy 314 will go into full effect on both NVU campuses.