Regents vote to make campus tobacco free

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 Board of Regents voted Thursday to make the campus tobacco free, but President Bob Davies, with help from a committee, must iron out details of the new policy before the Regents’ February meeting.

The Board also voted to build new sorority housing and raise faculty and staff salaries by 1 percent. But the proposed tobacco ban drew the most debate – and at times emotional comments – from the Regents.

“The motion today made it very clear that Murray State will be a tobacco-free and a tobacco-like-free university,” Davies said. While the ban was approved, it will be implemented gradually over the next year, he said.

Davies said starting immediately he will gather a group of administrators and other representatives from across campus to decide on a timeline for implementing the ban and a clear policy of how to enforce it, which will be presented to the board in February.

Then, the Board will have to vote to approve it for the next academic year.

By a 6-3 vote, the Board chose a full ban of tobacco, including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, and tobacco-like substances, such as e-cigarettes, over the other options of banning only smoking or just tweaking the existing campus policy, which bars  smoking in classroom buildings.

Student Regent Michael Dobbs, Regent Phil Schooley and Chairman Harry Lee Waterfield II were the three who voted no.

Waterfield said he was concerned about the safety of smokers and used the example of young women who might want to smoke late night.

“It’s 11:30, 12 o’clock at night and some young co-ed has got to have a cigarette,” Waterfield said. “And no one wants to go with her so she has to go two, three hundred yards away to find a place to have a smoke.”

Even though the ban will cover all forms of tobacco, including smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes, the most important issue for members of the board was how to balance giving smokers space on campus and minimizing health risks from smoking.

Regent Sharon Green, who supported a full ban, was moved to tears while explaining how her father was diagnosed with lung cancer while she was a student at Murray State.

Green’s father passed away before her wedding.

“Someone else had to walk me down the aisle,” she said.

This fall the university created a task force that survey more than 6,000 Murray State students, faculty and staff.

About 30 percent said they favored a tobacco ban, 24 percent said preferred going smoke-free, and roughly 45 percent said they supported improving the tobacco environment, which would still allow tobacco on campus but would restrict its use to certain locations.

Reflecting the majority of that poll, Dobbs voted against the full ban.

“I don’t want to force people to do that,” he said. “I believe in personal choice. I think that’s an important part of college life. But I also want to encourage healthy behaviors as well.”

Dobbs recommended restricting tobacco on campus and revisiting  the issue later.

The majority of the board, however, said the time had come for a full ban because of the dangerous health effects of tobacco use.

“I don’t think we want to be the last university in Kentucky to implement a ban,” said Regent Constantine Curris, former Murray State president.

Approval for the ban followed a less-intense approval of new sorority housing and a unanimous decision to approve percent salary increases.

Don Robertson, vice president of Student Affairs, called the current sorority living situation “not effective.”

Four properties on North 16th Street, Hamilton Avenue and Olive Street have been approved for razing to make room for the new housing.

The approved salary increases will be between $250 and $1,200 per person, totaling up to $800,000 together, leaving tuition revenue at more than $2 million.

Story by Amanda Grau, News Editor, and Mary Bradley, Editor-in-Chief