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Faculty debates university smoking ban

By John Binder
On February 18, 2014

  • Faculty members Unkyoung Kim (above left), on the viola, and Daniel Cassin (above right), on cello, performed together in the Faculty Chamber Recital. Musical Treasures for Strings and Piano.

Since the last Louisiana legislative session, when lawmakers passed a bill to ban smoking on all state college and university campuses, cigarettes and electronic cigarettes have been at the center of debate as Southeastern searches for its own tobacco-free policy.
Senate Bill 36, which will be implemented in the fall 2014 semester, was proposed by Algiers Democrat Sen. David Heitmeier and calls for the prohibition of tobacco products on all higher education facilities and buildings in Louisiana.
The demand, as explained by Heitmeier, is designed to make the state a healthier place to live and will follow the examples of already smoke-free campuses such as Nicholls State University and most recently Tulane University.
Senate Faculty members most recently discussed the policy and the proposed university policy after the Facilities and Safety Committee reviewed both.
Among the concerns brought forward by committee member and Faculty Senator Dr. Gerlinde Beckers were those which included the fines associated with smoking on campus, the enforcement of a smoking ban as well as how the policy will impact visitors to campus.
"How would they enforce a smoke-free campus, especially for visitors," asked Beckers. "There are fines and the committee felt like the fines were kind of high. Again, how do they enforce the fines with visitors?"
Beckers said the proposed university policy makes an exception for smoking on game-days and at tailgating events, undermining the concept of a true tobacco-free campus. This rule coincides with the university's alcohol policy which bans all alcoholic beverages on campus except during those same events.
"So if we are truly going to be a tobacco-free campus, how can we have these exclusions for game days and tailgating," said Beckers.
Also, Beckers brought up an issue involving electronic cigarettes, which she says is more complicated than the others.
Senate Bill 36 does not include language that encompasses electronic cigarettes, making the issue something each individual college or university would have to deal with on their own.
Beckers, however, said that the proposed university policy does include electronic cigarettes, which her committee found it to be questionable.
"Electronic cigarettes don't cause any environmental harm or cause an aesthetic issue on campus," said Beckers. "So the committee feels like electronic cigarettes should not be included in the tobacco-free policy specifically because electronic cigarettes are meant to help people quit smoking."
Not all faculty senators agreed with the recommendation though.
Faculty Senator Dr. John O'Reilly said electronic cigarettes must be included in the university's policy or else it would promote the use of electronic cigarettes throughout campus.
"If you don't include [electronic cigarettes], you're telling these kids 'This is cool. Do it. You'll get addicted to nicotine. You'll get hypertensive. You're going to kill brain cells and maybe you'll find that cigarettes are even better for you than nicotine,'" said O'Reilly. "It's absolutely absurd."
Faculty Senator Dr. Kurt Corbello disagreed with O'Reilly's take on the issue by saying the tobacco-free policy was never meant to be a health policy.
"I don't see this as an issue of health, otherwise we're crossing the line in which we need to be," said Corbello. "Why don't we just start talking about all sorts of other policies that impact health? I see this mostly as 'I don't want to be breathing somebody else's smoke' and 'I don't want to see the garbage that smokers tend to leave.'"
Faculty Senator Dr. Claire Procopio said she agreed with Corbello that the purpose of the policy was to focus on reducing smoke for non-smokers rather than declaring what is healthy for students.
"If the point of the spirit of the law was that you shouldn't have to leave a building and cough your way through it, the policy would prohibit that from happening," said Procopio. "I don't have a thought in sight as to what we would do with electronic cigarettes or not. I'm uncomfortable with talking about how we've got to make it healthy and how we've got to set a good example. I don't really see that as the role of this policy or this body."
Senate Faculty President Dr. James Kirylo said the Facilities and Safety Committee will report its findings at the senate's next meeting in writing and from there, the senate faculty will decide whether or not to amend the proposed university tobacco-free policy to exclude electronic cigarettes.

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