By STEVEN NALLEY
A Mississippi State University official proposed a policy revision that would end tobacco use on campus by August 2014.
Bill Kibler, MSU vice president for student affairs, said his proposal culminates the work a task force of faculty, students and staff began one year ago, conducting surveys, studying national trends and examining other campuses’ approaches to going tobacco-free. MSU Health Services Director Bob Collins chaired this task force, Kibler said, and the next step is to hold one or more public forums late in the fall semester to gather more feedback.
“I can’t give you an exact date (for this meeting), but my expectation would be late this semester,” Kibler said. “My hope is that we’ll be ready to do that right before Thanksgiving. Then we would make any revisions that seem appropriate based on all the feedback we’ve gotten, and then it would actually be submitted as a formal proposal.”
Kibler said such a proposal would go through more staff review before going to MSU’s executive council for final discussion and recommendation to MSU President Mark Keenum, who would then be able to sign and approve the proposal. Kibler said he hopes for this signature to come early in the spring 2013 semester. In the interim between the proposal’s passage and the August 2014 deadline, Kibler said, the proposal calls for an extensive publicity campaign to raise awareness of the end to campus tobacco use and help students, faculty and staff make the transition.
“There will also be a lot of promotion — no requirement, but a lot of promotion — of our smoking cessation programs that we have from our (Longest) Student Health Center that will be open to faculty, staff or students,” Kibler said. “If you’re in a program that might require prescription medication, you would have to pay for that, but other than that, all the programming ... would be free and open to anybody on the campus.”
The proposal’s current draft also calls for an interim revision to tobacco policy that designates specific areas for tobacco use near buildings, Kibler said. Current policy prohibits tobacco use within 25 feet of building entrances, and Kibler said this extra revision would further reduce exposure to second-hand smoke for people entering and exiting buildings.
“One of the primary purposes of going to smoke-free and tobacco-free is to eliminate not only the impact of second-hand smoke, but also the pollution and littering that comes with use of tobacco products because there’s pretty compelling data about how much of that ends up on the ground rather than in proper receptacles,” Kibler said. “We would just limit that a little further as a way to get the message out to folks that we’re on our way to going completely tobacco-free. I think we learn more every year about research and the impact of second-hand smoke, that even slight exposure to (second-hand smoke) that someone might get outside versus intense exposure they get inside can be harmful to one’s health.”
The policy change would still allow people to use tobacco in their personal vehicles on campus, Kibler said, so long as the vehicles are enclosed.
“As of right now, the latest report I saw is there are over 700 colleges and universities in the country that have gone totally tobacco-free,” Kibler said.
One of those colleges is the University of Mississippi, where Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Leslie Banahan said the policy was introduced Aug. 1, but no fines will be assessed for violation of the policy until Jan. 1. She said the transition is going well, largely because UM’s Associated Student Body first introduced the concept.
“Frankly, the most vocal opponents of the policy have been employees, and that’s understandable,” Banahan said. “They’re here for eight hours straight and are accustomed to taking breaks to smoke during the day. That’s where we’ve had the most difficult time getting buy-in for the policy.”
Banahan said it has also helped that UM has not only offered free tobacco use cessation programs, but also free cessation medication for those who seek it.
“Our state employee health insurance provides free cessation medications for three months, so for employees, we have not had any costs associated with it. There’s no deductible or co-pay,” Banahan said. “For students, we are providing the medication. I think it’s averaging between $150-$175 (per student) depending on exactly what type of medication they decide to use.
Robert McMillan, associate professor of psychology at MSU and project director of the National Social Climate Survey of Tobacco Control, said other schools with tobacco-free campus policies include the University of Arkansas, the University of Kentucky and the University of Florida. He was part of the task force whose research went into Kibler’s proposal, and he said there are many on campus who would support the proposal.
“We did an online vote with faculty and staff, and an online survey of students. Most of the campus wanted to see a stricter policy than what we currently have. About half the people who want to see it change want (the campus) to become tobacco-free, and the other half wanted to see stricter policies, a more limited number of designated areas where people can use tobacco products.”