During their last meeting of the year, the ASUU Assembly voted in favor of joint resolution 14 to examine smoking concerns on campus.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Shields and Sen. Ryann Cooley, seeks to create a task force of 10 to 15 students and faculty who will draft recommendations about tobacco use at the U. These solutions may including banning all smoking and tobacco products, creating designated smoking areas or not implementing any changes.
The ASUU Senate will hear the resolution tonight at 7 p.m. in the West Union Ballroom for a vote or amendments before going to U President David Pershing for final approval. If the bill passes, the task force will survey students and report back to the ASUU legislature next Fall Semester with their findings. It would be up to the 2015-2016 representatives and senators to implement a plan based on the committee’s suggestions.
Madison Black, ASUU vice president, spoke in support of the bill.
“I believe this is a policy that could really help our campus be healthier,” she said. “And I also think that we are taking the right steps necessary to make sure that we are examining this policy and not just implementing it right off the bat.”
She said the task force will ensure the issue isn’t treated like the “Utah Man” fight song changes from last April, when ASUU members voted to change the lyrics 22 hours before their term in office ended. Instead, she wants students to have a say throughout the process before any measures are put in place. To ensure this, the task force will send out multiple surveys, set up an email account for comments, table at university events and create a referendum — structured like an ASUU election ballot — to gauge student opinions.
Black also hopes if the U becomes a tobacco-free campus, students who currently smoke will take steps to quit with help from support programs at the university. According to a 2011 study by the Center for Student Wellness, that would include about 4.99 percent of U students who consider themselves habitual smokers.
But Rep. Shwan Javdan said it’s not that simple.
“You kept making it seem like everyone who wants to smoke wants to quit, and that’s not true,” he said. “We shouldn’t be shaming people who smoke and don’t want to quit.”
While Javdan ultimately voted in favor of the bill, that wasn’t his only hesitation. He was also concerned with how students would be reprimanded if they disregard the potential smoking ban.
Black said the policy would be enforced by what she called an “honor code” — not related to the well-known BYU regulations. This is based off of similar smoke-free policies at colleges including UCLA and the University of North Dakota, where students informally pledge to abide by the rules.
“It’s not like we’re going to ticket students who are smoking,” Black said.
Currently, 1,543 colleges in the United States are smoke-free, according to the advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. BYU and Dixie State are Utah’s only two schools with no-smoking parameters. Utah State considered a similar shift in February 2014 but has yet to make a final decision.
Additionally, four Pac-12 schools — ASU, University of Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA — are smoke-free. The remaining eight schools, with the U as the final participant, are considering policies, some led by representative committees.
The task force Black has in mind, which is currently being formed although the bill is not completely through the legislative process, would include Academic Senate president Stephen Alder, health officers from U Health Care and incoming ASUU Senior Class President Devin Price, among others.
Rep. Jeff Thomas worries that composition sets the group up to be biased.
“It sounds like you have some pretty influential people on there,” he said. “I think it’s already a loaded committee that is pushing toward this tobacco-free policy.”
Thomas wants students who are not in favor of a smoking ban to be involved as well. Black said there is some flexibility in adding that kind of representation to the committee.
Some students reacted to the idea of a smoke-free campus on the “University of Utah Confessions” Facebook page where an anonymous user wrote: “ASUU wants to ban smoking on campus . . . welcome to BYU North.” The post received 347 “likes” and had 138 comments, as of Wednesday.
One person responded: “I am more worried by those factories up the road than the dude that needs to relax from the stress-inducing exams with a cig.” Another wrote: “You mean people who don’t smoke don’t enjoy the smell of cigarette smoke? Heaven forbid!”
The U currently follows the Utah Clean Air Act with guidelines that include no smoking inside any campus buildings or within 25 feet of entrances. Black believes the joint resolution will bridge gaps she sees in the act’s policies.
“We really want to make sure this is done right and effectively,” she said. “And at the same time, we need to make sure we’re looking at the benefits of the whole picture.”