UK’s tobacco-free campus up in smoke



There’s nothing quite like stepping outside of White Hall Classroom Building on UK’s campus on a brisk November morning and inhaling a breath of fresh toxins.

Public smoking bans are becoming the norm nowadays, but what bewilders me the most are the clouds of smoke lingering around UK’s two-year tobacco-free campus. If you’re anticipating fresh air on campus, then you better hold your breath.

Those of us who venture onto campus are almost certain to have some level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Non-smokers shouldn’t have to tolerate the 7,000 chemical compounds that cigarettes expose them to, not to mention the stench.

If you think second-hand smoke isn’t an issue, think again. Second-hand smoke is responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone. It can cause serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. And this is all happening involuntarily.

It’s more than a mere annoyance. The hazards of breathing second-hand smoke are well documented, but some advocates for smoking argue that restricting smoking from certain areas is an infringement on personal liberty.

This argument might find its ground in a form of ambiguous legislation, but the personal liberty of non-smokers often gets lost in the debate.

Are 50,000 deaths each year not loud enough? Don’t I have the right to venture to my classes across campus without having to evade clouds of smoke in the process? Where do non-smokers fit into this equation?

Legislation isn’t infringing on anyone’s right to smoke, only where they smoke. Each person has that right to smoke until it infringes on the non-smoker’s right to carcinogen-free air.

The University of California, Irvine, and Queen’s University, Canada, partnered to examine the relationship between smoking bans and second-hand smoke exposure.

In the research study conducted from 2000 to 2008, it was discovered that second-hand smoke exposure declined from 23 to 11 percent, whereas public smoking bans accounted for more than seven percent of that reduction.

What’s open to question is whether the smoking ban was implemented with any means of enforcement during the research period.

UK’s Tobacco-Free Campus Initiative has made similar strides since its implementation in November 2009. However, a lack of enforcement across campus is generating an environment of blatant disregard for this university bylaw.

Anthany Beatty, co-director of the Tobacco-Free Task Force, said no citations are issued to individuals for using tobacco products on campus.

Instead, the university has implemented a compliance model to encourage everyone to conform to the tobacco-free policy.

It’s a culture shift that motivates people to change their thoughts about tobacco products without the engagement of criminal consequences. But is a compliance model sufficient enough to shift the paradigm?

A compliance model isn’t an adequate response, to say the least. If UK Parking and Transportation Services implemented a “compliance model” to get everyone to conform to parking regulations, do you think that for a second people would comply? Absolutely not.

They don’t comply when there are consequences; why on earth would they comply without them?At this point you might be thinking that pushing the agenda for a tobacco-free campus is of the least importance for the university.

They have more significant issues that deserve the financial investments that are being designated for the Tobacco-Free Campus Initiative. And to a certain extent, you’re right.

UK invested public funds in a week’s worth of events that commemorated the two-year anniversary of its tobacco-free campus that is nonexistent because of the lack of enforcement.

Those are funds that could go to more pressing issues. On the other hand, the university must address the 50,000 deaths associated with second-hand smoke, especially when Kentucky is ranked highest in smoke-related deaths.

If we’ve learned anything from history it’s that people learn lessons the hard way.

That’s why the leaders of the Tobacco-Free Campus Initiative must replace the compliance model for a policy with actual consequences.

All universities across the U.S. are struggling to enforce tobacco-free policies, but that doesn’t mean UK can’t lead the way with an enforcement model that echoes across the nation.

I’m fed up with taking alternate routes on campus to avoid the popular “smoking areas.”

There’s no reason that I should be holding my breath for 30-plus seconds so that I can avoid the toxins of other people’s poor decision making. And I’m not alone.

The university is far from being tobacco-free and certainly has little to show for the last two years of this so-called initiative.

It’s time for directors Beatty and Ellen Hahn to quickly change that for future students. After all, it is their job to do so.