SYDNEY CROMWELL – News Editor
Samford’s administration is considering a ban on on-campus smoking, but the Student Government Association’s senators have voted overwhelmingly against the idea.
Garry Atkins, assistant dean for student services and values advocacy, submitted the proposal for Senate consideration earlier this semester. Senators discussed the proposal at length during their Feb. 4 meeting and took a vote on Feb. 18. The final vote showed four senators supported the measure and 31 opposed it, with three senators absent and two abstaining from the vote.
The Senate’s vote does not bind the Samford administration to a certain course of action. It is only one of several factors that will be considered as a decision is reached. Right now, Atkins said the final decision on smoking policy is still very uncertain.
“As far as the campus going smoke-free, that’s not a foregone conclusion yet,” Atkins said.
“It seemed to be a unanimous decision from Senate that this proposal would not best represent the Samford student body,” Campus Services Committee Chair and sophomore pre-business major Cole Moffett said. “It was not an easy decision, but we seemed to agree that the policy we already have about designated smoking areas would be the best option.”
Smoke-free campuses are multiplying across the country under encouragement from the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and other health organizations. The city of Birmingham outlawed smoking in most public places in April 2012, and the University of Alabama – Birmingham has been smoke-free since 2004.
Atkins said the pressure to ban smoking on Samford’s campus started around 2010 and was part of the reason Samford abandoned its loose smoking policy in 2013. He also said that the smoke-free campus proposal had been submitted to the Senate in the past two years and it received considerable support both years.
In March 2013, Samford implemented a new policy that limited smoking to 10 designated zones across campus. The administration discussed the possibility of a smoke-free campus at the time, but ultimately rejected the plan.
“Last year, several of us felt that there was enough intrusion in people’s lives and since tobacco products are legal, we ought not go so far as outlawing them completely,” said Human Resources Director Fred Rogan, who participated in the smoking policy discussions. “A ban would be good in that I know the use of tobacco is bad for a person’s health, but so is overeating and not exercising.”
While banning smoking would have obvious health benefits, SGA senators largely opposed the measure because they predicted a negative effect on student life. They were concerned by the possibility of forcing resident students to leave campus every time they need to smoke, especially since many do not meet the age requirement to move off campus. The habitual nature of tobacco use was also seen as a problem, since the ban would force both resident and commuter students to go hours without being able to smoke.
“This would be immediately forcing a major lifestyle change on some people and for a regular smoker that could be very difficult,” said junior pre-business major and West Campus Senator Stephen Newton. “For a longtime, habitual smoker, asking them to go eight hours or more without smoking could be an unrealistic demand and break an established routine.”
The senators also discussed possible repercussions in enrollment numbers, especially from international students whose home countries have more of a smoking culture. Atkins, however, was uncertain about the accuracy of this concern.
“I think it’s somewhat flawed. The reason why I say that is that I would hate that there is any type of stereotyping going on,” Atkins said. “In their decision, I hope they did some research with [international] students.”
Many senators at the Feb. 4 meeting felt that the current smoking zones are sufficient for the needs of both smokers and non-smokers on campus.
“I represent West Campus and have talked to several people about a potential smoking ban. They already have had to adjust to the new dedicated smoking zones and certainly do not want to go a step further to a smoke free campus. Most felt that it was unfair to force such a large lifestyle change on them. I also talked to non-smokers who really saw smoking as a non-issue,” Newton said. “They commented that the smoking zones actually had been effective because it had taken away smoking in crowded areas such as Ben Brown Plaza.”
“I personally do not smoke nor do I feel affected by those who do,” Moffett agreed. “However, I would still be against a smoke-free Samford. I stand behind the decision we made in Senate that the designated smoking areas solve the issue better than a smoke-free campus.”
If the smoking ban is eventually implemented, Atkins said he would like to see students try to quit the habit, and he believes on-campus smoking cessation programs could be a source of support.
“I think that, unfortunately, there are times when we have to adapt to certain things,” Atkins said. “For those who do smoke or have a need to smoke, I would hope they will see this as something they should consider for their own well-being for the long run.”