SMOKING DEBATE GETS HEATED

Photo illustration by Kory Savage/The News A student blows out the smoke from her cigarette while taking a smoke break on-campus.
Photo illustration by Kory Savage/The News A student blows out the smoke from her cigarette while taking a smoke break on-campus.

Photo illustration by Kory Savage/The News
A student blows out the smoke from her cigarette while taking a smoke break on-campus.

The debate on whether the Murray State community can smoke on campus or if a stricter smoking policy will be implemented will be decided at the next Board of Regents’ meeting on Dec. 4.

Last week, in preparation for this decision, the Smoke Free Committee, a sub-committee of the Staff and Faculty Insurance and Benefits Committee, sent a final survey to all University constituents. The data collected from this survey will be used by the Insurance and Benefits Committee to formulate its recommendation to the board.

  The four-part survey sent via email by Cris Ferguson, chair of the Smoke Free Committee, gave the University body three choices to pick from regarding how Murray State should move forward with its tobacco and smoking policy.

Despite the committee’s name, it is working under no preconceived notion or agenda to eliminate smoking on campus and wishes to get everyone’s feedback, Ferguson said.

One of the options included in the survey is to become a tobacco-free campus, prohibiting all forms of tobacco including those that “simulate tobacco,” such as e-cigarettes. Another is to become a smoke-free campus, prohibiting only products that release secondhand smoke.  The final option is “to make improvements to the campus tobacco environment” by establishing smoking and non-smoking areas and regulating smokeless tobacco and vaping products within University property.

No option was given to leave Murray State’s policy unaltered, which allows smoking and tobacco use on campus.

While the committee did not include this option in the survey, the Board of Regents will have the final say and may choose to make no adjustments to the policy, despite any recommendation, Ferguson said.

The creation of the Smoke Free Committee was first suggested by the Insurance and Benefits Committee last October. However, it was not staffed until February. Ferguson said one of the main reasons the committee was created was to research the degree to which smoking and tobacco-related illnesses affect the cost of healthcare and insurance.

“The committee started its work as an investigation into our (smoking policy) options with no particular deadline in mind, but Gov. Beshear’s executive order somewhat changed our focus and our deadline,” she said.

Beshear’s executive order, signed in September, will make all government property in Kentucky smoke-free as of Nov. 20, but does not affect institutions of higher learning.  Despite this, Ferguson said, it did expedite the committee’s work.

Ferguson said the decision will likely be decided either in December or at the following Board of Regents meeting in February. She said the Smoke Free Committee will continue to operate no matter what decision is made in gauging the effect of the policy adopted.

The Smoke Free Committee will continue to accept surveys until Nov. 5 after which time it will begin to compile its findings for the Insurance and Benefits Committee.

Along with survey data, the Smoke Free Committee has also spoken with Faculty Senate, Staff Congress and the Student Government Association and asked them to poll members about what policy they would prefer. Members of all three of these governing bodies also have members serving and reporting to the Smoke Free Committee.

Michael Dobbs, SGA president, said the possibility of a smoking ban on campus is the most widely discussed topic in SGA.

“The main concern is enforcing whatever is implemented and also not impeding on the rights of both smokers and non-smokers in whatever decision is made,” he said. “This isn’t something that just affects faculty or staff or a specific building. With whatever decision is made, some will be affected positively and someone will, unfortunately, be affected negatively.”

An informal poll was taken two weeks ago by SGA that gave students a chance to vote on similar options to those offered in last week’s survey. Of the three options, the poll’s results were split evenly.

President Bob Davies said when he first began his position as president of Eastern Oregon University, there were no smoking restrictions until the governor made an executive order, similar to Beshear’s. He said Eastern Oregon University had the same discussions Murray State is having before ultimately becoming tobacco and smoke free.

“Regardless of which way we go, I do think we need to take on the (smoking) education aspect through Health Services of others and really investigate smoking cessation programs,” Davies said. “If we do go tobacco free or not tobacco free that has to be part of the process. No question about it.”

Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer