Story and Photo by Andrew Wigdor, Editor-in-Chief
Middle Tennessee State University is a tobacco-free campus. According to the university’s policy, any use of “cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff, as well as smokeless electronic cigarettes” is prohibited. Yet, it’s easy to see the rules being violated on campus on a daily basis.
MTSU students have been known to freely smoke in a variety of areas across campus with little to no repercussions, despite the many Tobacco-Free signs posted throughout the university on buildings, bulletin boards and buses.
Michael Shoop, a junior studying audio production, stated that he has been smoking on MTSU’s campus for almost three years.
“Freshman year, I was stopped once,” Shoop said. “(They said), ‘Hey, don’t do that.’ Now, I don’t care … Taking the signs down and taking it out of the handbook would help. If you’re going to say its ‘Tobacco-Free’ and don’t enforce it, then what’s the point of even having it?”
Timothy Hikeem-Vance, a freshman studying audio production, said that he never feels uncomfortable smoking in plain view.
“Literally everyone does it,” Hikeem-Vance said. “So, I don’t ever feel pressured by someone walking by and saying, ‘Hey, put that out.’ Even if they told me to put it out, I don’t think I would.”
Vance said that, despite his noncompliance with the policy, MTSU should not do away with the Tobacco-Free title.
“They shouldn’t take them down because I think it looks good,” Hikeem-Vance said. “It looks good for the school’s reputation. At orientation, it was all clean. There were no cigarette butts in sight. But, as soon as you get here, everyone’s smoking.”
Dean West, a junior political science major, also stated that he has been smoking for his entire college career. According to West, the typical spots where he and his friends smoke are the quad, the area in between the Business and Aerospace Building and Walker Library, and Peck Hall. West said that he is only bothered when he is with minority individuals.
“When I’m hanging out with some of my Saudi friends, I’ll get yelled at,” West said. “When I’m hanging out with my black friends, I’ll get yelled at. But, if I’m just sitting by myself, I never get bothered about (smoking).”
West said that if anyone says anything, he’ll say “alright,” put his cigarette out, move to a different spot and begin to smoke again.
Despite MTSU students’ apparent lack of caution when it comes to the policy, one can still have disciplinary action taken against them if caught smoking, according to MTSU Vice President for Student Affairs Debra Sells.
“It is important for members of our campus community to understand that compliance with our tobacco-free policy is not optional,” Sells said. “Although the policy does not depend on citations and fines, there are consequences that can result from violating this policy, just as there are from violating any other University regulation.”
Sells explained that ignoring the policy could result in a number of disciplinary consequences, which could be as severe as expulsion.
“Students who violate this policy will be referred to the Student Conduct office where the disciplinary process will be initiated, which could include a disciplinary hearing,” Sells said. “Disciplinary sanctions will range from warnings or reprimands, to suspension or expulsion for the most egregious instances of noncompliance.”
Sells also stated that not one single entity is responsible for the enforcement of the policy.
“Some students say, ‘If we don’t get 100 percent compliance, why do we have the rule?’ To me, it’s not unlike the fact that our freeways have speed limits,” Sells said. “Just because some people choose to speed, we don’t decide to abolish the speed limit. Unfortunately, smoking is a lot more difficult to monitor than speeding, so it falls upon all of us to politely approach smokers or those who are vaping, remind them that this is a smoke-free campus, let them know their smoking is bothering us and ask them to stop.”
While it is true that the smoking policy is meant to be enforced through a community effort, students who violate the policy are rarely reported to the relevant authorities, according to Laura Sosh-Lightsy, the assistant dean of the Office of Student Conduct.
“Our statistics (of smoking offenders) can be found online,” Sosh-Lightsy said. “They are very low because no one reports them.”
Based on statistics collected by MTSU, one student was reported and adjudicated by the Office of Student Conduct between July 2016 and June 2017.
This statistic is a decrease from the data collected in May 2015 and July 2016, in which 11 students were reported to the Office of Student Conduct.
“The story is that no one confronts it, and everyone complains about there being no smoking police,” Sosh-Lightsy said.
The smoking policy was originally implemented in January 2012, and the stated purpose of the policy was to “reduce harm from secondhand smoke, provide an environment that encourages persons to be tobacco-free (and) establish a campus culture of wellness and promote a tobacco-free future,” according to the Tobacco-Free webpage. It also states that MTSU independently created the policy to promote “a healthy environment for all.” An SGA senator was quoted saying that “MTSU gets money for having a tobacco-free campus” in a Sidelines article published in 2014. According to Sells, however, the school has never received money to promote and uphold the policy.
Lisa Schrader, the director of MTSU Health Promotion, said it is important to remain a tobacco-free campus due to the health risks that accompany using tobacco products.
“The long-term risks of secondhand smoke exposure are well documented,” Schrader said. “In the short term, though, we need to protect students with asthma and other respiratory conditions that can be triggered by smoke exposure. Additionally, we have documented that smoking tobacco in the past 30 days is linked to a lower GPA. Another consideration is that more employers are beginning to screen for tobacco use in the hiring process in an effort to reduce health insurance costs and to increase worker productivity. It is in the interests of our students that we encourage tobacco-free lifestyles.” With this being said, for anyone who has recently stopped smoking cigarettes and have switched to alternative methods such as using nicotine gum, patches or even a device like the PAX vaporizer, this is a positive change in their lifestyle. At least they are one step closer to leading a healthier lifestyle. Taking this step makes all the difference to the individual and everyone around them.
Schrader added that enforcement of the policy is dependent upon accountability of the community.
“Any member of the MTSU community is empowered to politely remind people of the policy and ask them to stop smoking, chewing, vaping, etc.,” Schrader said. “The bystander effect is that when everyone is empowered, it is easy for an individual to justify doing nothing, assuming that someone else will take responsibility and do it for them. They pass the buck to someone else, effectively.”
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