PULLMAN – At least once a day, between classes and study sessions, Abdul Albarraq smokes a cigarette near the library in the center of the Washington State University campus. He’ll probably have to stop.
WSU’s board of regents will vote Friday whether to banish tobacco and nicotine products from the Pullman campus. Smokers such as Albarraq will have to leave campus or sit in their cars to smoke, chew or use any products that contain nicotine.
“The whole intention of this is a tobacco- and nicotine-free campus,” said Dwight Hagihara, the executive director of WSU’s Environmental Health and Safety Department and head of the task force assigned to research the ban. Studies suggest that college-age is among the pivotal times people are influenced to use tobacco, he said.
WSU Spokane banned tobacco use in 2012, and WSU Vancouver followed suit in 2013. The Tri-Cities campus also is considering a ban.
The proposed rule for the main WSU campus in Pullman would ban tobacco use in all university-owned buildings, vehicles, parking lots, sidewalks, streets and fields, including the golf course. There would be no designated smoking areas outside of buildings as there have been since state law banned smoking within 25 feet of a public building entrance.
The regents’ decision comes nearly a year after undergraduates passed a student government ballot measure calling for the ban. Since November, controversy has swirled around the issue.
Some graduate students – who make up a small segment of the student population and weren’t eligible to vote on the undergraduate measure – were dismayed. Some complained that the rule would force them to walk long distances to enjoy a cigarette, something they couldn’t do during a 15-minute break.
Others said the rule shouldn’t apply to electronic cigarettes or “vaping,” which many believe is a healthier alternative to smoking. Hagihara noted that science has yet to back the health claim.
“There are still questions about what you’re really breathing” with e-cigarettes, he said.
Hagihara said smoking cessation services will be available through student health services and in conjunction with employees’ health insurance.
The proposed rule says WSU students and employees who violate it would be subject to conduct hearings or disciplinary action. But administrators don’t expect a big crackdown on smokers who forget the rule or sneak a cigarette in some out-of-the-way corner.
“We’re not going to have patrols out there,” he said.
Survey responses and votes showed that the majority of graduate and undergraduate students support the ban. Supporters have said they don’t like walking through clouds of smoke on their way to class.
“There’s two sides to it,” Albarraq said. “I want to smoke, but I know that it’s unhealthy.”
If approved by the regents, the ban would take effect in August 2016. According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, more than 1,500 campuses nationwide are smoke-free, more than 1,000 are totally tobacco-free and nearly 600 prohibit the use of e-cigarettes.