According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, over 530 colleges and universities nationwide have gone completely smoke-free, including on-campus student housing as of July 1, 2011.
This step ahead for the health of all students has not occurred on Salt Lake Community College’s campuses, though it has been considered by the student leadership and brought to the Board of Trustees.
“Each year we address the same issues and concerns,” says Robert Corbridge, executive vice president of the SLCC Student Association.
Some of the policies that SLCC has considered are extending the smoke-free areas away from the buildings, creating smoke-free “corridors” between buildings that are close to each other, creating “smoke centers,” and going completely smoke-free.
Smoke centers would be places designated for smokers. They can be as elaborate as a gazebo or as simple as a marked area someplace on campus. Some problems with this concept include figuring out how many centers to create, where they would be placed and how they would be funded.
The larger issue with smoke centers is the idea that one group of the student population is being isolated from the student body as a whole. It has the feel of segregation to it.
Smokers believe that they have a right to smoke and non-smokers say that it isn’t a right especially when it adversely affects the health of people who have chosen not to smoke.
Non-smokers can point to the 2010 surgeon general’s report on tobacco use to support their claims that secondhand smoke is dangerous. The report states that “there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Any exposure to tobacco smoke – even an occasional cigarette or exposure to secondhand smoke – is harmful,” and that, “Damage from tobacco smoke is immediate.”
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC estimates that about 443,000 smokers die each year from smoking-related health issues and about 50,000 people die each year from second-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke and smoking can lead to emphysema, lung cancer and heart disease.
With these diseases comes an increase in healthcare costs for everyone involved. Those who have insurance will not only pay higher premiums for themselves, but everyone else will pay higher premiums as more smokers and those affected by smoking use the resources in the system. Those who do not have insurance will become a burden on an already overburdened healthcare system. Their inability to pay for the services that they receive will result in higher health care costs for everyone else.
The questions for SLCC are how many resources should be expended in considering a policy change of this magnitude and what should be left undone. Because the Board of Trustees believes that the current State of Utah regulation is sufficient and there hasn’t been a large outcry among the student population-at-large, student government is channeling its energies into issues that it sees as more important, like textbook costs.
Most smokers on campus respect the signs that ask them to be 25 feet away from any building entrance. The problem is that smoke doesn’t read, and non-smoking students cannot get from building to building without passing beyond that 25-foot threshold.
Until a new policy emerges it is important for everyone to take personal responsibility for their actions. This means that those who smoke need to continue to respect the boundaries around the entrances to buildings and non-smokers need to politely ask those who do not respect the boundaries to move away from the doors.
Without a general outcry among the student body, it may take the death of a student who has an asthmatic attack triggered by second-hand smoke to change the school policy. By that time, several other students who smoke will have risked their lives and the lives of their friends and family.