MU trying for tobacco-free campus after struggles with smoking ban
COLUMBIA - The University of Missouri banned smoking on campus in 2013, but after issues with compliance over the past four years, the school is trying to ban all tobacco products while finding ways to better enforce the policy.
MU received a $20,000 grant from the American Cancer Society and CVS Health Foundation in September, part of $1.2 million given to 126 colleges and universities around the country to fund tobacco-free policy implementation on the campuses.
Kevin Everett, an associate professor at MU and tobacco researcher, applied for the award.
"I thought it would be a good chance to improve on the process we have for our smoke free campus and have it be more inclusive for all tobacco products so that we might be able to reduce the harm that tobacco causes to young people," Everett said.
According to a survey by the CVS Health Foundation, 73 percent of Americans and 78 percent of college students indicated their support for policies that prohibit smoking and other tobacco use on college campuses.
"Tobacco use is the leading cause of death and disability in this country and a lot of people’s tobacco use habits while they’re in college or in high school," Everett said. "We know that having policies that prohibit tobacco use will reduce prevalence of use as well as encourage people to quit that are using tobacco."
Everett is serving as chair of the committee and said that over the next two semesters, the group will talk about ways to improve cessation, ways to improve communication about the policy, including where new signs should be put, as well as working on compliance with the policy.
Ryan Alsop, chairman of Student Affairs at MU, is one of the student representatives serving on the committee. He said that despite the smoking ban, people continue to light up all over campus, especially in areas near Strickland and Middlebush halls as well as outside of Ellis Library.
"The littering of cigarette butts makes us look terrible, especially with the tour guides walking around," Alsop said. "They even promote that we’re a smoke free campus, but it’s hard to do that when they turn the corner and look at the fountain and there’s smokers lining the wall."
Alsop said it's not only a littering issue, but also a health issue for students around campus when others are smoking.
"If we’re on university grounds and you’re smoking, you don’t know the student that’s going to walk by, you don’t know their health issues," he said. "There are a good majority of students who have asthma or at least something and they are affected by smoking."
Regarding the current smoking ban, Alsop said it hasn't worked because there is no authority behind it.
"The current policy focuses on students asking other students to stop smoking and it hasn’t been working," he said.
"Because our community has a high turnover rate (new students every year; new faculty and staff hires, etc.), educating individuals about the policy is a constant effort. We have tips for our community on how they can help us enforce the policy," MU Spokesman Christian Basi said in an email.
Basi pointed to the "compliance tips" section of the "Smoke Free Mizzou" website.
This is what it currently says about addressing a violation:
"Compliance is everyone’s business. If you see someone violating the smoking policy, please approach the person in a kind, compassionate way. You might say, "Hi, I'm Truman. MU recently became a smoke-free campus and if you must smoke, though I wish you wouldn't, you'll have to do it off university property."
If the person continues to smoke after being reminded about the policy, you're encouraged report him or her to the dean or building manager in charge of the nearest building. You may report an employee to his or her supervisor or to Human Resources."
Everett said the first step will be to get more "non-smoking" signage around campus, especially in the problem areas.
After reviewing possible steps, the committee will make written recommendations to the university for approval. Everett hopes that by Fall 2018, MU will be a 100 percent tobacco-free campus and have improved enforcement of the policy as well as better education for students on the dangers of smoking.
"If they’re in an environment that doesn’t support tobacco use, they’re less likely to become daily users and addicted," Everett said. "Trying to educate young people on just how challenging it is to overcome an addiction to nicotine and tobacco use is a real important part of the process."