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Absolute ban on smoking a long shot for Kansas universities

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, July 4, 2012, at 5:18 p.m.

Jessica Bock, a research associate from Germany at the National Institute for Aviation Research, takes many of her smoking breaks at a designated smoking area near NIAR’s building, on the Wichita State University campus.

If Bock worked at one of several universities across the nation that are enacting or discussing total bans on tobacco use, she might have to leave campus in order to smoke.

California’s state system will ban all tobacco use in 2013. A ban on use and advertising at the City University of New York system goes into effect in September, and the University of Missouri-Columbia is going smoke-free in 2014. Ohio higher education officials plan a vote this month urging all public campuses to ban tobacco use.

The Kansas Board of Regents, which governs the state’s six public universities, introduced a policy in 2010 that bans tobacco sales and distribution on campuses. But it has not banned smoking itself.

“We have nothing on use,” said Vanessa Lamoreaux, assistant director of communications for the Board of Regents. “Decisions are left up to each individual campus.”

WSU follows the Kansas Clean Indoor Air Act standards by offering employees a smoke-free workplace, said Ted Ayres, vice president and general counsel at the university. That means that smoking, including the use of electronic cigarettes, is prohibited in all campus buildings and also within 10 feet of any doorway, open window or air intake that leads into a building, facility or stadium.

Other Kansas universities – both public and private – follow the same act, which basically regulates smoking inside and around buildings but not out in the open air, which is the object of a total smoking ban.

“We are concerned for the safety of all our students,” said Michael Austin, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Newman University, a private university in Wichita. “We try to make sure that the students who smoke don’t affect the health of the students who don’t smoke, but right now we are not considering a tobacco ban on campus.”

Friends University, another private Wichita college, restricts smoking to a few designated outdoor areas and has no plans to change the policy, said university spokeswoman Kate Bosserman.

A total ban is not under discussion at the University of Kansas either, said Jill Jess, director of the KU News Service.

According to the surgeon general’s report for 2012, tobacco use among people ages 18 to 25 remains at high proportions nationwide. About a quarter to a third of college students smoke, studies have found.

Total ban unlikely

An absolute ban on tobacco on Kansas campuses has not come up in conversation, several university officials said.

“I would not see it happening,” Ayres said. “I am not a smoker myself, so it’s not that I favor it.

“But if people choose to smoke, and they do so in an area that is not currently prohibited by state law or university policy, I think it’s a question of should the university take it upon itself to totally ban that exercise of choice.”

In order to enforce an anti-smoking policy, campuses would need “smoking officers” who patrol the campus and make sure that nobody lights up, Ayres said. Plus, the measure would affect not only students and faculty, but also visitors.

Ayers thinks it’s more likely that universities will continue to educate and inform students about the dangers of smoking.

“I see that as much more viable than an absolute ban,” he said.

Changing policies

A change in smoking rules would have to go through all the steps that any new university policy needs to before it is adopted.

In the case of Newman, the student or faculty governing body would have to bring in a proposal, which would then have to be approved by the university president and the board of trustees, Austin said.

At WSU, a proposal would need to be submitted by one of the “policy initiator” groups on campus, such as the faculty senate or the Student Government Association, Ayres said. It would then be discussed with different stakeholders around campus and analyzed by senior administrators for fairness, reasonability and enforceability. Eventually, it would need to be approved by the university president.

If a new policy were to be adopted at the Board of Regents level, it would need to be drafted, presented to the board, discussed with different interest groups and then voted on, Lamoreaux said. Once approved, a Board of Regents policy has to be instituted by the state’s six Regents universities.

Contributing: Associated Press

Reach Simina Mistreanu at 316-268-6791 or smistreanu@wichitaeagle.com.

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