Students push back on tobacco-free campus policy

Natalie Frank, a senior art education major, smokes a cigarette off campus Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. Kent State banned smoking and tobacco use July 1.

Story by: Cameron Gorman

Natalie Frank remembers the first time she felt the effects of a cigarette.

“I lit it right before I got on my bike, and I was like riding it and, just like, this like tingly, awesome feeling just like went right through my body, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is awesome,’” she said.

“So I just got like these weird-like vibration, and then I don’t get that anymore unless if I haven’t eaten or smoked for a couple of days or something.”

It’s a feeling that is now against policy on Kent State’s tobacco-free campus.

The tobacco-free campus policy, which went into effect July 1 and prohibits the use of cigarettes, tobacco products and vapes on campus, is now in full swing.

Students who want to smoke now have to walk off school property to light up, causing smokers and non-smokers alike to voice frustration over the restrictive policy.

“There’s a few places off school grounds you have to go. You have to walk a decent way if you want to, like do it without having to worry about security, and the problem is most of the time it’s at night when I want to do it,” said Alex Rule, a freshman exploratory major.

“Because it’s like end of the day, I just want to relax, and you have to walk all the way out of your way. It’s not like even that safe out where you’re walking, because it has to be off campus.”

Now, when he wants to smoke, Rule usually goes to the local BP station or down the road from Lake Hall, usually a 20 to 30 minute walk.

“I mean, I feel like a lot of people who are opposed to it, … they automatically see someone doing it and think you’re the devil,” Rule said.

“You’re the worst person ever and stuff like that, but really it’s just like, ‘No, I want to just make this decision for myself and worry about it for myself.’”

The policy is still new to most students, especially those who haven’t been on campus this summer, when Kent State made the policy official. It’s a change that may seem jarring.

“I just, I really don’t feel like people are going to like abide by it. I think that they’re just like, like earlier today, I saw people hiding like back there smoking a cigarette. I guess people just don’t know what to do,” Frank said.

She noted that most of those in her art program smoked.

“You can’t ask a group of like 18 through 22-year-olds who just moved out of their houses to stop smoking,” said Helen Meffie, a senior English major. “Like — it’s not gonna happen. People are gonna make their own choices about things, like regardless of if you try to like shame them out of it.”

Some at the university level, however, have a different view of the “ban.”

“No one’s saying you have to quit or anything like that, or we’re not taking away students’, you know, right to smoke,” said Sierra Baker, a health educator for the University Health Services department.

“People, you know, sometimes do call it a ban, but it’s really not a ban; you just can’t smoke on Kent State property. And I’m sure you’re aware, you know, this is just like the trend almost in higher education. Many campuses are smoke-free now. So now we’re one of them, so that’s really great.”

Baker facilitates the university’s smoking cessation program, offered for free to students and held for eight sessions over seven weeks.

“Staying quit,” as is said in the program, is not easy, and Baker said the amount of students in the program has remained level since Kent State enacted the ban.

While there was an increase in those interested in quitting, most didn’t follow through.

“A lot of times, smokers know the health risks associated with smoking, you know. It’s not really news to anybody, yet they continue to smoke, so I think that sometimes it kind of goes hand in hand,” Baker said.

It is not only smokers, however, that feel the decision should should be made by students.

“Well, my biggest thing is they went straight from a smoking campus all the way to a ban. You know, and the ban hasn’t worked at Cleveland State, (University of Michigan),” said Harrison Sorm, a freshman psychology major. 

Sorm is the vice president of Young Americans for Liberty, a “non-partisan, liberty-minded group.”

Along with Kevin Cline, the group’s president, Sorm created and circulated a petition against the smoking ban.

“So the issue that we’re fighting for with the petition is we’re trying to show them that you can’t just go to a straight, all-out ban,” Sorm said.

“And people always go with the argument of, ‘Well, it’s because it’s affecting other people’s health.’ I would give them that if it didn’t also extend to non-tobacco products. They expand this to e-cigarettes, vapes, which may be nicotine or non-nicotine. They expand this to chewing tobacco and snus as well, which is another form of chewing tobacco.”

The petition has been signed both in hard copies, which have gathered 250 signatures, and online, including Facebook, where it has gathered support Sorm has not yet counted.

“You can’t enforce something like this. It’s the same idea of telling people you’re not allowed soda on campus when you can go to the Circle K down the street and get, you know, a Mountain Dew,” Sorm said.

“You know, you can’t tell people you can’t do these things because there’s ways around it, especially when you can’t enforce it, you know, on a city-wide level, let alone a university level.”

Another concern Sorm voiced was the lack of receptacles for smokers.

“The biggest thing here — and people are still smoking on campus — professors, students, you know, they’re still smoking,” Sorm said.

“So it didn’t fix anything. For me, the biggest issue with it is they didn’t try anything less restrictive. They didn’t try to necessarily designate smoking zones. You know, they had the little ashtrays set up, but that didn’t necessarily mean that’s a smoking zone. Now they took everything away, so the kids who do smoke are just going to litter everywhere.”

Frank echoed the concern, but the view of groundskeepers is much different.

“We are tobacco-free on campus,” said Heather White, a grounds manager. “OK, so the ship has sailed about having designated areas. That’s just not even on the table. There are no designated areas, and it is much less work for the grounds department being tobacco-free.”

Still, the petition continues to circulate. Though Sorm and others need the support of at least 8 percent of the student populous in order to present the petition to the Undergraduate Student Government, the statement made by the petition is important in and of itself.

“It shows people that there is an alternative. It shows people that there are people who will challenge, you know, the university, and will challenge USG and that you don’t have to necessarily hide or be silenced,” Sorm said.

“There are groups out there like Turning Point USA, like Young Americans for Liberty, you know, there are groups that will give you an outlet if you don’t necessarily agree with other people on campus, because if you don’t agree with others on campus, you’re not going to fit in.”

For now, however, the policy remains in place. There are no designated areas or sand-filled pots, only signs with the no smoking symbol over the outline of a wafting cigarette.

“It’s not going to work. … It’s like, it’s taboo and people like to do what they’re not supposed to do,” Frank said.

She inhaled the smoke from a cigarette balanced in her hand — an L&M Turkish Blend.

“It’s like thing one (and) thing two complex,” she said. “It’s like you tell me not to do something, I’m just going to do it. Now I have to do it.”

Cameron Gorman is a features correspondent. Contact her at [email protected].

Kent State of Wellness working with USG on smoke-free initiative on campus

Story by: Nya Coleman

“Let’s clear the air.” Those are the words you can find on a few new signs around Kent State’s campus. Kent State was officially named a smoke-free campus as of July 1.

Kent State of Wellness has been working with student organizations, the Deweese Health Center and the Undergraduate Student Government to bring the smoke-free initiative to campus for two years.

According to Kent State University’s website, “Smoking and tobacco use will not be permitted on any of Kent State’s campuses or other locations and properties that are owned, operated or leased by Kent State, both domestic and international. This includes all areas within Kent State properties, including buildings, grounds, roads, parking lots, recreational areas and sidewalks. Since the policy applies to streets and parking lots, smoking will not be permitted in personal vehicles on university property.”

“There was always a lot of complaints about secondhand smoke and the affects that it could have on their health,” said Nina Darden, USG’s senator for the College of Public Health.

The new policy is not only for students, but for faculty, staff and visitors, as well.

The policies are not just for smoking cigarettes. Cigars, cigarillos, cloves, hookahs, e-cigarettes, herbal and oil vaporizers, pipes, water pipes and all smokeless tobacco is also prohibited.

Students have mixed feelings on the policy. One student said that even though he is not a smoker, he feels that his friends who are should have the right to do so. Sophomore psychology major Hannah Kurtz said it’s good, but a bit inconvenient for her.

“I think it’s really helpful because I only smoke sometimes, but now I smoke a lot less because I’m not allowed to smoke on campus,” Kurtz said.

“But it’s inconvenient when I do want to smoke when I get stressed, which is like all the time, because I’m a college student. I have to drive off campus to smoke, which isn’t that bad, but I don’t know my way around, so I’m just driving around on back roads and stuff.”

Even though Kent State enacted the smoke-free policy, consequences for smoking on campus have not gone into effect. There is no authoritative power enforcing the policy.

“Some of the policies are that you can’t smoke on campus, obviously,” Darden said. “And a big discussion has been the enforcement of it. So, there will not be any consequences. There will not be any fines attached to smoking on campus. And I know it’s been kind of questioned whether there should be consequences for smoking.”

“It’s just supposed to be more of a culture change and if you do see someone smoking, you can let them know kindly that we are a smoke-free campus and if they have questions, you can guide them over to the Kent State of Wellness,” Darden added. “The policies will mostly be enacted through dialogue and conversation.”

Because the policy is a voluntary basis, students said they may not take it seriously.

“If there’s no consequences, honestly, if I was in my car, not in the middle of campus, (I would smoke),” Kurtz said. “I wouldn’t just light a cigarette out here, but I park in S-41, so if I was out there, a ways away from everybody, I probably would.”

Both USG and Kent State of Wellness know that this will be a difficult culture transition for the campus, but are ready to help in any way they can.

“I think to have the conversation continue is really important,” Darden said. “I know that USG is more than happy to host forums and to have discussions about this, and the Kent State of Wellness is really excited to talk to students about it. So please guide any questions to them. They have all the resources.”

Nya Coleman is a TV2 reporter. Contact her at [email protected].