The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced an initiative to ban smoking from college campuses last month. This is part of the HHS goal to create a society free of tobacco-related disease and death, according to their action plan released by the HHS in 2010.
Colleges who fail to enact campus-wide smoking bans and other tobacco-free policies may soon face the loss of grants and contracts from the HHS, according to the plan. Western receives grants through a subdivision of the HHS called the National Institutes of Health, Acting Vice Provost for Research Kathleen Kitto said.
Western does not forbid smoking on campus, although the university discourages smoking throughout campus walkways with signs that read “avoid smoking on walkways, paths, bus stops & when near others outdoors.”
Medical histories obtained by the Student Health Center show more than 20 percent of health center patients regularly smoke tobacco.
Western policies are currently in compliance with all state and federal laws and the university is not at risk of losing funding, Kitto said.
Students on Western’s campus have voiced concerns about the HHS’s actions.
“It seems discriminatory against smokers,” said junior Jonathan Stone, who has been a smoker for three years. “For some, it’s a choice and for others it’s an addiction.”
Smokers aren’t alone. Some non-smokers also are expressing their disapproval over the possibility of a smoking ban.
“They can have smoking areas," said sophomore Michelle Mauro, a non-smoker. "But I think the whole campus having a smoking ban is just a little extreme.”
Junior Marta Wambaugh, another non-smoker, also disagrees with banning tobacco, favoring education and preventative policies instead.
“I’m surprised it's anti-smoking and not just a ‘we’ll help you quit if you want to’ policy, which I think is a better way to go,” Wambaugh said. “People won’t quit unless they want to.”
Such programs do exist. Western administration makes an effort to identify student tobacco use and provide education and support, especially for patients who go to the Student Health Center with respiratory complaints, SHC Director Emily Gibson wrote in an email.
There are smokers who are sympathetic to the idea of a ban.
“I would be bothered by it but I would accept it,” said senior Joe Savarese, who has been smoking for five years. “I wouldn’t want my own personal habit to inhibit anybody else.”
Many colleges across the nation are adopting smoking bans. There are now 814 campuses in the United States that have enacted a complete ban on smoking, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.
“Smoking is still a problem on the WWU campus despite the current rules leaving buildings smoke-free,” Gibson said. “Simply walking through a crowd in between classes, one is assaulted by second-hand smoke from those who are using the break to get their nicotine fix.”