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MU Student Senate supports tobacco ban on campus

Oct. 17, 2012 @ 12:11 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University's Student Senate narrowly passed a resolution, 11-7, supporting a full tobacco ban on campus.

The meeting Tuesday afternoon lasted two hours, with all but the first 10 minutes devoted to discussion and questions about the proposal drafted by a five-person committee. The committee included Student Body President Ray Harrell; Amy Saunders, coordinator of the university's Student Health Education Program; John Yaun, director of Housing and Residence Life; Matt Turner, chief of staff; and Steve Hensley, dean of student affairs.

The resolution states that having a tobacco-free campus provides a "safe and healthy environment for all of our faculty, staff and students," and that all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, pipes and chewing tobacco, are prohibited.

Saunders and Harrell said student and employee survey results from the past six years provide overwhelming evidence of support for a tobacco-free campus, although the survey only asks if they support a smoke-free campus. The latest results from the spring semester showed 71 percent of students and 74 percent of employees support a smoke-free campus.

Several students and employees asked questions and made statements about the proposal, which ultimately must be approved by the Marshall Board of Governors. Some students, many of whom indicated they were nonsmokers, said they supported a ban on smoking because of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. But some argued that using chewing tobacco is not harmful to anyone other than the person using it.

Others, including two members of the senate, said they would prefer a partial ban allowing designated smoking areas on campus. But Saunders said those are harder to enforce than a full ban and still create a health risk for those walking through campus who have to pass by the stations. In addition, she noted Cabell Huntington Hospital tried designated smoker stations, and the effort proved futile. A full tobacco ban goes into effect at the hospital in November, she said. In addition, she said the current policy of no smoking within 20 feet of a building is rarely followed.

Senator Ford Rucker was among a few who expressed frustration not so much with a smoking ban but with how the proposal was drafted. He said the senate should have had a say in crafting it. But fellow Senator Derek Ramsey said the Senate had its opportunity during the 2011-2012 school year, failing to vote on two proposals. He said Harrell and the committee did what the Senate has not done in getting a proposal on paper.

Some of the most influential dialogue during the meeting came from Sabrina Thomas, who works in the library. She said she is 26 weeks pregnant and has asthma, and students are lighting up next to the library, many times outside her office window.

"I'm worried about the exposure," Thomas said. "I can avoid a lot of things, but I can't avoid work."

Piyali Dasgupta, as associate professor and researcher for Pharmacology, Physiology and Toxicology, said secondhand smoke is less dangerous outside. But she said it is dangerous nonetheless, even discussing the amount of exposure from third-hand smoke, which is the tobacco residue that clings to walls, carpets, clothes, cars and other surfaces.

Saunders said opportunities currently available to help tobacco users quit will be expanded and more publicized as part of any marketing campaign put forward if the ban is approved.

In addition to health risks, it was disclosed that maintenance workers and cleaning crews spend four hours a day cleaning up cigarette butts and chewing tobacco that has been spit on sidewalks. One senator who gives tours to prospective students and their families said people do notice the butts and said it provides an unclean image of campus.

The next step is to seek support of the Faculty Senate and Classified Staff Council. Harrell said he'd like a final proposal to go before the board of governors at the December meeting.



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