UI campus plans total tobacco ban in 2019

UI campus plans total tobacco ban in 2019

URBANA — If you're headed to the University of Illinois, leave the chewing tobacco at home.

Starting next August, the campus no-smoking policy will be extended to include all smokeless tobacco products, from chewing tobacco to dissolvable tobacco "orbs" and strips.

Michele Guerra, director of the UI's Wellbeing Services Center, said it's a logical extension of the current smoke-free policy, which also bans "vaping," or the use of electronic cigarettes that emit nicotine vapor instead of smoke.

While the initial smoking ban resulted from a push by students, this time it comes from health experts and others on campus concerned about the risks of all forms of tobacco, Guerra said. It's been under consideration for almost a year.

"A lot of people think that it's just smoking tobacco that is problematic in terms of health. In reality, all tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States," via cancer, lung disease, stroke and heart disease, she said.

More than 2,000 college campuses are now smoke-free, and many are also tobacco-free, she said.

"We're not alone in this," Guerra said.

Both Parkland College and Danville Area Community College are already tobacco free, as is the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Like the no-smoking policy, the tobacco ban would apply to students, faculty, other employees and visitors to campus, including fans at sporting events. It would cover all UI-owned property, indoors and outdoors, as well as private vehicles parked on campus property.

In Wednesday's announcement, Chancellor Robert Jones said the change is being made to "strengthen our commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles for our campus community."

The campus will appoint a task force with faculty, students and staff members to work over the next 10 months to develop the "nuts and bolts" of the policy, examining best practices from other campuses. Campus Wellbeing Services will also conduct focus groups to get input from various constituencies and work with the task force to put together materials to answer questions or concerns, he said.

The announcement was made now to give people time to adapt to the new policy, Guerra said. The campus will continue offering programs to help people quit tobacco through McKinley Health Center and Campus Wellbeing Services, she said.

Guerra wasn't sure yet how the policy will be enforced, given that smokeless tobacco is less visible than cigarettes or e-cigarettes.

Critic: 'Paternalistic' rule

Enforcement of the 2014 smoking ban changed over time. Initially, it was "educationally oriented" to promote compliance, she said. Students who repeatedly failed to comply were sent to the Office of Conflict Resolution, and employees were referred to their supervisor, who dealt with it like other policy violations, she said.

In 2015, a new state law required campuses to be smoke-free, so UI enforcement shifted to the UI Police Department.

Police have issued 743 tickets since then, the vast majority of them warnings to first-time violators, said department spokesman Patrick Wade. The first ticket is always a warning, with no fine. After that, offenders get tickets carrying fines of $25 for the second violation, $50 for the third and $100 for the fourth.

At least one UI student believes the tobacco ban is too broad.

Andrew Donovan, a third-year law student who doesn't smoke, said he agreed with the original smoking ban, which was intended to address the dangers of secondhand smoke and fire safety — what he called the "negative externalities of cigarettes."

The new ban focuses almost entirely on an individual's use of products with "minimal negative social effects," he said.

"Smokeless tobacco is dangerous, but the toxins do not reach anyone in the university community outside of the user," he said. "Banning something with no real negative impact on the community is paternalistic."

Guerra said most tobacco users start before age 18, and almost 100 percent before age 26, meaning college students are at risk. Typically, it starts occasionally, at parties or for stress-management, then escalates to daily use, she said.

A third of people who continue smoking into adulthood will die of a tobacco-related disease — cancer, lung diseases such as COPD, heart disease and others, Guerra said.

Vapor from e-cigarettes contains similar carcinogens to tobacco smoke, Guerra said. She's getting more and more reports of people vaping on campus, including in classes.

"We're not telling people that they can't use tobacco. We're just asking them not to use it while they're on the campus," she said.

'Going out of fashion'

Donovan agreed the university should provide resources to promote healthy lifestyles, including information on the harm caused by tobacco products.

"However, the university should not be able to dictate behavior that does not harm other students, staff or community safety. Similarly, the university has a responsibility to provide healthy eating options on campus, but it cannot limit the amount of unhealthy food someone consumes, regardless of the dangers of heart disease," he said.

"I am unsure how banning a professor from using smokeless tobacco or electronic cigarettes in private protects freshmen from potential addiction," Donovan said. "It is cruel to tell a sanitation staff worker with a nicotine habit that he cannot use smokeless tobacco in his own car while he is on a break."

Student body President Walter Lindwall said the original smoke-free policy was initiated by his cousin, Hannah Ehrenberg, student trustee at the time, and he is inclined to support the tobacco ban.

But he can see Donovan's point.

"A lot of these products have substantially less risk regarding secondhand smoke," he said.

Still, Lindwall sees the tobacco ban as effort to make the student body healthier and thinks the campus would be better off without them.

He's not sure how students feel about the policy yet but has heard plenty of complaints about smokers who violate the current ban, smoking outside various libraries where students have to walk.

"I think in general smoking is kind of going out of fashion, even with these new products," he said.