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Could USU become Utah's third smoke-free campus?

Published: Sunday, Feb. 9 2014 8:10 p.m. MST

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News Archives

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LOGAN — The number of smoke-free college campuses in the U.S. has reached 1,812 — a number that has more than doubled since 2011, according to the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights lobbying group.

Only two of those campuses are in Utah.

Utah State University is hoping to find out how well-received a policy restricting tobacco use on its campus would be. It's a step that could lead the Logan university to join Brigham Young University and Dixie State University as tobacco-free schools.

"We already know it's a problem," said Daryn Frischknecht, student advocate vice president with the USU Student Association. "Right now, we're in the process of finalizing survey questions to understand how large the problem is. We need to understand what students think is best."

Frischknecht expects the surveys to begin this week.

About 5 percent of USU's students smoke, but that's plenty when considering how nonsmokers are affected in high-traffic areas, according to Ryan Barfuss, a prevention specialist with USU's Student Health and Wellness Center.

"If all 5 percent are in a common area on campus, then that's quite a bit in that area," Barfuss said. "There's quite a few students that are allergic to smoke and that have problems with asthma. And it's not just college students that are experiencing the health effects of tobacco smoke. We also have an elementary school here on campus."

The university complies with the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act, which doesn't allow smoking within 25 feet of an entrance or an air inlet to a public building, said Dr. Jim Davis, executive director of health, wellness and recreation at USU. But Davis believes students' efforts to go beyond the state law will be a step in the right direction for the university.

"Students on our campus have come together and said, 'What can we do to help reduce secondhand smoke and the use of smoking products on this campus,'" Davis said. "We've taken an interest in listening to students and helping them organize to move forward with a smoke-free campus."

Westminster College in Salt Lake City hasn't had a major debate where smoking is concerned, according to Marke Ferne, associate provost for student development and dean of students. But he said a move to upgrade the school's tobacco policy would be welcome.

"We have complaints on occasion about smoking, but nothing has been implemented," Ferne said. "We would certainly be willing to go beyond" the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act.

Weber State University's tobacco policy only allows smoking in designated areas, which began in November of 2012. Since then, implementation and enforcement have been gradual, allowing smokers to become accustomed to the new policy. Currently, WSU uses signs to indicate what areas on campus are appropriate for smoking.

Three years ago, Dixie's dealings with tobacco were similar to USU's, according to Dixie Dean of Students Del Beatty.

"It was a huge concern," he said.

Beatty said he grew worried when a pregnant woman told him she was having to take longer routes through campus to avoid areas where people smoked. Other nonsmokers, he said, were having to walk through "a congregation of people smoking" 25 feet from the door to get to class.

Dixie conducted multiple surveys with students, asking who would be in favor of a completely tobacco-free campus. Beatty said between 70 percent and 80 percent of students said they would support such a policy, some of whom were smokers.

"Several smokers expressed how excited they were because this would possibly help them quit smoking," Beatty said.

The move wasn't without opposition, however. Some students and faculty voiced concerns that a no-tobacco proposal was heavily influenced by monetary, political or religious agendas, Beatty said.

The university held moderated forums where students, faculty and staff expressed their views of the proposal. The school's Board of Trustees heard arguments from both sides and voted unanimously to adopt the no-tobacco policy last November.

"The policy was not to punish people. The policy was not to raise money. The policy is here to keep people healthy. This has nothing to do with religion, this is about health," Beatty said.

The policy became effective Jan. 1, making Dixie the second Utah university to have a tobacco-free campus. BYU, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has never allowed smoking on its campus. The church teaches its members to abstain from tobacco and alcohol.

Beatty said that during the policy's first year, Dixie is striving to educate more than enforce.

"This first year, we're not going to ticket someone on their first time" smoking on campus, Beatty said. "We're an educational institution, so we want to educate everyone. We'll probably give a friendly reminder that we are a tobacco-free campus.

"We're going to do our very best to help smokers," he said.

Dixie is offering cessation programs for smokers through its Health and Wellness Center. The center's coordinator, Barbara Johnson, says the primary objective is health.

"We've had calls from students, faculty and staff on what they can do with smoking cessation, and we've worked with the Southwest Health Department in putting these people through programs to help them quit," Johnson said. "We're just getting started, but the benefit is that we'll have a healthier campus, I'm sure."

Beatty said he received "inquisitive support" from other Utah institutions while advancing the policy.

"Now that it has passed, I've received numerous calls and messages from a lot of the other colleges and universities who are now pushing for it," he said.

USU is one of them.

"My goal is to have something in place (at USU) by the end of the year," Barfuss said.

If such a policy were brought into effect at USU, Davis said its implementation and enforcement would be gradual, much as policies were for WSU and Dixie.

"I would foresee this as a program that would be worked in over time with strong education and minimal enforcement upfront," Davis said.

For now, students' voices will determine to what extent USU's higher administration considers restricting smoking or all forms of tobacco use on campus.

"We want to do it the right way," Barfuss said. "In reality, it has to be a student-driven campaign. The students have to really want it. It's their university."

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

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