Smokers’ Rights Go Up in Smoke


(Photo by Preston Zubal)

(Photo by Preston Zubal)
(Photo by Preston Zubal)

Nearly every door of the Annex building has an anti-smoking poster.
Smoking guidelines from Utah’s Indoor Clean Air Act dot the bulletin boards and windows near ash trays. These posters aren’t found anywhere else on campus — not so densely, at least — where smokers congregate.
Krairut Phanich, the program manager for the English Language Institute (ELI), said anti-smoking efforts are targeted mostly at students in the institute who congregate within the Annex building, where the ELI is located. The institute’s nearly 250 students, who have come to the U from many different countries, are in the Annex building most of the day. Most students in the institute come from countries where smoking is more socially acceptable. According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, Utah has the lowest smoking rate in the country — 12.2 percent of Utah adults smoke, while nearly 20 percent of adults smoke nationally. And compared to other countries, Utah’s rate seems even lower. Still, smoking continues to be normal around the Annex building.
Phanich said the norm of smoking around the building led to complaints from other departments and Annex visitors which led to the Utah Health Department contacting the ELI about the issue. The Utah Indoor Clean Air Act prohibits smoking in all enclosed workspaces and within 25 feet of a workspace’s door or air intake. The Department of Health could fine or, if the violation is harsh enough, shut down the ELI if its students continue to violate the guidelines.
ELI met with other university departments and administration to create a solution. Grounds moved ash trays 25 feet away from entrances, and the College of Health distributed signs. Utah Indoor Clean Air Act guidelines were posted in all ELI course syllabi. Phanich has also started weekly checks outside for smokers. If students are caught smoking too close to the building, they get a warning. If they get a second warning, they are expelled from the university.
“I’ve only given one student a warning,” Phanich said. “And there are less complaints.”
This policy change was only for the one department and one building — a special case for changing smoker attitudes.
Katie Stiel, the program manager at the Center for Student Wellness, said she knows how difficult broader change is.
In 2011 Stiel, along with Eduardo Galindo, a tobacco control intern for the center that year, conducted a survey on tobacco use among U students. The survey found that 18.5 percent of students have used tobacco products, and of those, 4.99 percent consider themselves frequent tobacco smokers. The survey also asked students if they would support a campus-wide tobacco ban. Nearly 65 percent said they supported the ban and 20 percent were against. The rest were undecided.
The tobacco-free campus movement is gaining momentum. According to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, an anti-smoking lobbyist group, nearly 1,500 campuses are now smoke free as of October 2014. This is up from nearly 470 campuses in October 2011.
Only three campuses are smoke free in Utah, according to a Deseret News article. BYU and LDS Business College have never allowed smoking. And Dixie State University implemented a smoke free campus late last year, the first public university in Utah to do so.
In the Pac-12, seven campuses are smoke free: ASU, UCLA, UC Berkeley, OSU, UA, UO and CU-Boulder. WSU and UW have partial smoking bans. Only the U and Stanford have no requirements, other than indoor smoking bans.
Phanich said the U has considered the ban. During the smoking meetings ELI held, a campus-wide ban was discussed but not looked into further. And after Stiel and Galindo conducted the survey, results were sent to U administration and stake holders in hopes to instigate a tobacco-free campus.
Stiel said the survey results call for a larger effort than ELI’s new policies.
“There’s a lot more moving pieces and orchestration,” Stiel said. “Timing, resources, it wasn’t on our side.”
Carlos Tarin, a Ph.D candidate in communication, said he thinks a ban would not be effective.
“I was at ASU, which had a no smoking policy, and people still smoked,” Tarin said. “You got some mean stares, but that’s all.”
Tarin said he smokes on campus and tries to be courteous. He said he is more comfortable with a designated smoking area policy than an outright ban which allows smokers to be courteous, and is more likely to be followed.
Taylor Lowder, a freshman in pre-nursing, said she supports the ban. She isn’t a smoker but said she feels smoking is unavoidable.
“I guess I can hold my breath walking into the library,” Lowder said. Lowder said the unavoidability might be a Utah problem.
“Utah people rebel more, any way they can,” Lowder said. “They’re open about rebelling.”
Lowder said she is from Arizona, and the problem is not the same there.
Hannah Holmgren, a freshman in exercise and sport science, said she doesn’t mind the smoking as much as the cigarettes.
“My thing is the [cigarette butts] — they’re everywhere,” Holmgren said.
Henry Thomas, a sophomore in psychology, said he supports increasing how far smokers need to be from buildings but does not support a ban.
“Why should the U of U manage our addictions? I have a choice,” Thomas said.
Phanich said she thinks policy changes implemented by ELI wouldn’t work campus wide.
“Any changes must come from students,” Phanich said.
Stiel agrees that the decision must be passed down from the students.
“I don’t think [students] know how powerful they are,” Stiel said. “If there’s anything I want students to get out of this, it’s that they can make change.”
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