While it is perhaps not as prevalent as other recreational activities, the amount of students who do smoke cigarettes on campus is noticeable. Yet, even with today’s smoking awareness campaign, the overall health consequences to many students are unknown or misconceived.
Currently Bates’s policy prohibits smoking in all building and vehicles owned, rented, or leased by the College. Additionally, smoking is prohibited within 50 feet, or about 20 paces, of all campus buildings. Although this policy is active on campus, for the most part, it is not strictly enforced, all the while many campuses have gone either smoking-free or tobacco-free. Bates Public Health Initiative (BPHI) has been spearheading this effort to update and change current policy at Bates. Current Co-President of BPHI Reed Mszar ‘18 was willing to offer his thoughts on the issue.
“Beginning last year during the first semester, BPHI took an interest in having Bates update its smoking policy on campus,” recounted Mszar. The reason for their new-founded campaign may be a surprising one to some students. Currently, Bates College and Bowdoin College are the only two colleges in Maine who have yet to update their smoking policy to a smoking-free campus, a policy which remains around 15 years old.
“We originally looked at Colby’s model for reference, but took a step back after seeing that it was not really student driven. However, we still looked to see what worked and what didn’t. During the second semester we sent out a survey and found that although a majority of students did support a smoking-free campus, there still were some student concerns that needed to be addressed going forward. Heading into second semester this year, we really tried to reinvigorate the conversation about smoking. We sent out another survey trying to gauge student opinion and see whether our efforts have made any significant change to student perspective.”
“Additionally we plan to have a tobacco awareness event during Short-Term that we hope will further educate students on campus about the impact of 2nd hand-smoking and to keep students cognizant of the current policy on campus.”
When asked about the group’s long-term goal, Mszar acknowledged that he understands this will be a “multiyear process.” “What we don’t want to do, is to pull a Colby; we want the change to be student driven. Our objective so far has been to raise awareness and work with other students and clubs to make sure that all voices are being heard and considered because what we don’t want to do is an exclude the concerns of any group on campus.”
“One of the concerns that we have heard against this policy is that we are infringing on students’ rights.” Unlike alcohol, tobacco can be purchased at 18 in the state of Maine, so for many the problem is not a legal one, but a public health one.
“Another concern we hear is that we don’t want to unknowing promote a disparity among a student group; in case smoking is more prevalent among a certain group on campus, we want to make sure we are aware of this so we aren’t actively disenfranchising students. Thankfully the administration is on board, so long as we make sure the change is student driven, they are willing to back us up.”
When asked how important having a smoking-free campus was to the group, Mszar remarked that “While we do hope have a smoke-free campus in the coming years, certainly more important to us is raising awareness among the student body about the health cost of smoking.”
Nationally in the US, around 27% of all college students smoke. Currently there are no plans to change the Bates Smoking Policy for next year; however, the school in partnership with the Bates Health Initiative is considering future changes, so long as the student body is willing to implement them. However, the Bates Student Health Initiative is planning on future events to help with smoking prevention and awareness so that students can be more cognizant of the resources that are available to them.