The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Sunday, April 19, 11:08 p.m.

Students unsure if UMaine tobacco free initiative working

With the University of Maine’s Tobacco-Free Campus Initiative turning two years old in January, students on the University of Maine campus feel that they see less smoking around campus, but the program is not working.

One hundred students were asked by The Maine Campus on Thursday, whether they have seen more smoking on campus in the last year or two if they think the tobacco-free initiative is working; and whether the campus should be tobacco free.

Of the 100 students, 74 said they have seen less smoking, six have seen more and 20 didn’t know.

However, 45 out of the 100 students said the initiative isn’t working, 42 said it was and 13 didn’t know.

Dean of Students Robert Dana, who has been involved in all stages of this project, believes the initiative has worked.

“Any public-health campaign, you don’t expect a zero-sum result,” Dana said. “If you look where the smoking was, it’s no longer,” he continued.

However, while smoking near entrances of popular campus buildings and on the mall may have diminished, other areas across campus have cropped up as popular smoking hangouts.

“I’ve seen a lot of ‘designated’ smoking areas around campus,” said Krystal Mudgett, a second-year social work student. “There’s an area behind Barrows [Hall] and on the edge of the parking lots. I think it’s a big jump from smoking to nothing.”

Various spots across campus have been seen as highly populated smoking areas, including the side entrances to the Fogler Library, outside of Neville Hall and behind Shibles Hall. Dana said that when the project was first talked about, the idea of designated smoking areas was brought up, but it’s not a conversation that has been ongoing.

“People wanted that, thought it was a middle ground, but I’m not going to congregate the smokers,” Dana said. “Having smoking huts, I think it’s counter to what we’re trying to do. I feel bad for anyone who has to sneak their smoke or hide in a certain place, because that can’t feel good.”

The idea for the ban on tobacco was a progression, according to Dana, that had already been happening for decades.

“It used to be, you could smoke in the classroom, then that changed,” Dana said. “So then you could buy cigarettes in the bookstore and in the residences halls, but that changed. Then you couldn’t smoke in public places, and I think this is just a continuation of that approach.”

In addition to the two questions about the tobacco-free initiative, 100 students were asked whether UMaine should be tobacco free, with the majority of students believing it should. Fifty-nine of 100 students said yes to a tobacco-free campus, while 30 said no and 11 didn’t know. One student questioned, graduate student Eric Collins, said that the campus should be tobacco free as long as it’s for the right reasons, not just a public relations campaign. Dana stressed the project as a public-health initiative, using the university as a leading institute for public health.

“We thought what better place than a university to make a stand for the public health and to assure people who didn’t smoke that they didn’t have to be affected by it,” Dana said. “It was always [used] as a possible way for a smoker to get out of that conundrum, and I think it’s just that — a conundrum. As a drug researcher, I know that the best predictor of use is access and availability. From a public health perspective, if you reduce access, then you reduce the incidents and behavior.

“We thought the university as an entity, as a role model, as a trendsetter, we should really step up to the plate,” he continued.

According to Dana, the main intention of the initiative is to help the people who feel they need it. It was never in place to punish or police smokers.

“That’s all anyone ever wanted to know about this: how were we going to enforce it? You enforce it by the public good will,” Dana said. “You enforce it by people’s self-direction and people’s encouragement. We wanted to create an environment that wasn’t hostile to the smoker — that was never the intent — but one that was supportive. I think for many people it worked. We weren’t about to deploy a smoking police, per se, but we have a relatively few continuous smokers.”

A fourth-year student who didn’t want to be named said that she still smokes regularly, and only once had she been confronted about her cigarette.

“I had someone last year yell from the window of their car, ‘Smoke free!’”

Dana said a handful of people have been referred to judicial affairs, but he knows that the initiative wasn’t going to eliminate smoking completely.

“You’ll never get absolute, but people want it,” Dana said. “A lot of people you would ask, would say that if it’s not absolute then it’s not working. But there’s no entity that can control all behavior, nor would I want that.”

Dana said he could see a time soon where UMaine will be completely tobacco free.

“The smoking typography is changing,” he said. “Eighty percent of people don’t smoke and most are used to no-smoking environment. More and more people are coming here knowing UMaine is a tobacco free place.

“I would say smoking is remarkably absent here.”