Kansas college weighs campus-wide tobacco ban

GARDEN CITY, Kan. | Complaints about chewed tobacco and used snuff being left in sinks and water fountains have spurred student leaders at Garden City Community College to propose a campus-wide tobacco ban at the southwestern Kansas school.

Garden City would not be the first Kansas college to adopt a tobacco-free campus.

But Ashley Nielsen, president of the school's Student Government Association, says the initiatives at most colleges in Kansas and elsewhere have originated with administrators.

"This is one of the few in the country brought about by the students," Nielsen told The Garden City Telegram. "This is really special."

Micah Kasriel, faculty adviser to the Student Government Association, agreed.

"This is a grass roots campaign from the students," Kasriel said.

Nielsen is scheduled to present the tobacco-free campus proposal Wednesday to the college's Board of Trustees, which has indicated it favors the idea.

Smoking is already prohibited inside Garden City Community College buildings and within 50 feet of any primary building entrance, in compliance with Kansas law and a city ordinance.

But questions raised through an internal campus communications system alerted the Student Government Association to tobacco-related problems that go beyond smoking.

Through the communications system, which allows people to comment on campus issues anonymously, the association was asked what it was going to do about deposits of snuff and chewing tobacco in sinks and water fountains.

The association's response was a proposal for a tobacco-free campus that included fines for violations — a warning for a first offense, a $50 fine for a second offense and a $100 fine for three or more violations.

Those financial penalties have been deleted from the proposal on the advice of administrators, including interim president Joseph Emmons.

"They said we could not fine employees of the college," Nielsen said. "They thought we should take the approach of educating people on the dangers of tobacco."

Emmons said peer pressure reinforced by education on a school's policy works elsewhere.

Some opposition to the Student Government Association's proposal has surfaced, including an editorial in the student newspaper.

"We, as a staff, are all very aware of the health risks associated with the habit, but the bigger question for us is whether or not it is right for any governing body to dictate what someone chooses to ingest or inhale," the editors wrote.

Emmons said the back-and-forth is healthy.

"That is what a college campus is supposed to be about — free and open debate," Emmons said. "We have that now on this issue. That is good."