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6 September 2012

Policy shrinks campus smoking areas

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Photo Illustration by Cayla Nimmo

The trail of cigarette smoke sometimes experienced on the way to class will soon become a murky memory of the past.

Phase II of the Smoke-Free Campus Initiative, which will further eliminate smoking-designated areas on campus, began with the the fall semester. It will continue the work of Phase I, which began last year. Phase II removes nine smoking-designated areas for a current total of 14.

“The number is very close to half,” said Gilbert Arias, assistant vice president for student affairs.

Still, smoking-designated areas can be found near each major school and residential college. Signs indicate these areas, and a map can be accessed online.

Phase II will be implemented throughout this semester and the upcoming spring term. According to Arias, this period will give students an opportunity to prepare for a completely smoke-free campus in fall 2013. The university will make the transition on August 1 that year.

With a smoke-free campus, smokers will have to leave the campus perimeter if they still wish to continue smoking, Arias said. Smoking in parking lots will also be prohibited.

The Coral Gables campus is not the first to plan a process of becoming smoke-free, however. The Miller School of Medicine and its medical complex set the trend in March 2010 when they became smoke-free in a single step.

That same year, interested undergraduate students, with the help of Student Government and administrators like Arias, formed a committee to create a similar environment at the Gables campus. SG distributed a survey, and a majority of students asked for a smoke-free campus but wanted the initiative to be divided into phases unlike the medical campus..

Former SG President Brandon Mitchell was part of the committee and felt that the issue was an important step toward improving campus life.

“We worked on the initiative because we knew it was important to students both in their health and their on campus experience,” he said. “I’m very excited that has continued to progress and will lead to a completely smoke free campus.”

Nawara Alawa, current SG President, also hopes to continue the committee’s mission.

“If students have asked for this environment, then I help make sure that it fosters the best and most healthy educational opportunities both inside and outside the classroom,” she said.

The Gables decision was divided into these phases or years because of the presence of 4,600 residents, comprising students and faculty members with their families.

“The committee’s concern was that a completely smoke-free campus would force students who were smokers to go off campus,” Arias said.

The gradual shift to a smoke-free campus was the main objective behind the Smoke-Free Initiative and the committee.  

Sophomore Charlie Lorenzana, a nonsmoker, is ready to see UM join the ranks of other local smoke-free campuses.

“Other schools like Florida International University are already smoke-free, and it’s time UM followed suit,” he said. “It’s much nicer to go to school without having to deal with cigarette smoke wafting in the air.”

Smokers like sophomore Natasha Mijares are not worried about the initiative’s current and future changes because of the health benefits but still feels there will be difficulties when it becomes implemented.

“I actually like the idea of a smoke-free campus,” she said. “It will help many people stop, but it will be hard for people to follow because there’s a smoking culture that’s going to be eliminated.”

Several smokers who are against the policy were interviewed but wished to remain anonymous for disciplinary reasons.

In the meantime, Arias stress that smokers utilize the smoking-designated areas. Last year, students known as “Smoke-Free Ambassadors” were hired to patrol areas across campus. They informed and educated smokers who violated the policy.

The latest edition of the Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook states that if smokers continue to disregard the ambassadors’ warnings, “the individual…may be subject to appropriate disciplinary actions as defined by University policy.”

Students in violation of this policy usually report to the Dean of Students Officeaccording to Associate Dean of Students and Director of Judicial Affairs Tony Lake.

Though the consequences depend on the student’s situation, a first offense for a student who has a clean record usually results in a warning and the possibility of attending a mandatory, smoking educational program. If the offenses persist, then strict disciplinary probations may be taken, Lake said.

It is uncommon for students to reach that point, though, according to Lake. Last year, out of a total of 1053 violations, 42 were related to smoking outside of designated areas. And a first offense only remains on a student’s record for the duration of the semester and upon completion of other requirements like the smoking cessation classes.

Repeated offenses depend on the student’s situation but may be reported to graduate schools. But community service can help remove the offense from the student’s record.

“The point is not to be punitive but to give the student a second chance,” Lake said.

As the smoke-free date approaches, the handbook also states UM’s commitment to helping those in the campus community by offering a variety of smoking cessation programs and therapies. The main program recommended to students is called BeSmokeFree.

In a given week, an average of seven to eight people attend and participate in a support-group setting that allows for discussion amongst smokers who are quitting at different stages.

“It’s a really effective method because they are supporting, encouraging and sharing with each other,” Perez said of the program.

In addition to this peer-to-peer coping, Perez teaches about the addiction to nicotine and its short and long-term effects. She said that many smokers do not have a formal background of the addiction and look for unsuccessful “quick fixes” like the nicotine patch and gum, which help to gradually replace the concentrated form of the chemical in cigarettes.

Because this is a free service for students, faculty and staff, the patches and other additional resources like gum and lozenges are provided at no additional cost.

However, before a new student begins the first class, Perez evaluates each case separately because every smoker is slightly different. A person with sensitive gums, for example, would not be able to use the nicotine gum.

Perez is confident that, after attending the class once a week for six weeks, smokers will have quit and be ready to manage his or her life without the habit.

“They have definitely quit after six weeks,” she said. “They already know what they are doing because we have given them the resources since the first week.”

At this point, Perez advises the participants to replace the cigarette craving with an equally stress-free activity. These include regular exercise, activities such as yoga and hobbies that involve the use of hands, like knitting.

For students, the Wellness Center can help prepare an exercise regime that counters many of the debilitating effects accompanied by smoking.

Once an avid smoker in his college years, Norman Parsons, director of Wellness and Recreation, recommends a strongly cardiovascular routine that improves heart rate and respiratory functions.

Wellness Program Administrator Ashley Falcon also finds exercise helpful, but believes it should be coupled with BeSmokeFree.

“It is so easy to get addicted and stuck with the habit,” she said. “Students should take advantage of this free program.”