PULLMAN, Wash. – Fewer than 20 Washington State University students and employees turned out to express their opinions and ask questions Thursday evening during a public informational forum held in advance of a scheduled student referendum next week on the issue of whether the university’s Pullman campus should be declared tobacco-free.
Both the forum and the upcoming referendum are the result of the #DearWSU campaign, initiated earlier this semester in an effort to identify issues of significance to students on the Pullman campus, said ASWSU Senator Dakota Renz. Information collected over the course of the campaign suggests tobacco use on campus is a concern for a significant number of students, he said.
The ASWSU referendum will ask students to vote either for or against a proposed policy for a completely tobacco-free campus.
If the measure passes, ASWSU Senator Avery Maxwell said the ASWSU intends to work with an administrative task force charged with implementing the new policy, which would also need to be approved by the WSU Board of Regents.
Should the measure fail, she said, ASWSU intends to continue to look at ways in which student concerns about tobacco use might better be addressed.
The forum also featured seven representatives of the WSU administration, including Roger Patterson, WSU vice president for finance and administration; Bill Gardner, WSU Police Chief; Dwight Hagihara, executive director of WSU Environmental Health and Safety; and Dr. Bruce Wright, executive director of WSU Health and Wellness.
Like ASWSU, Patterson said the WSU administration has not taken a formal position on the referendum, but is prepared to work with students in the implementation of a new smoking policy should the measure pass. While he said he also takes no a personal stance on the issue, he indicated research conducted by the WSU administration suggests there is a growing trend toward tobacco-free or smoke-free campuses nationally and that similar changes at WSU may well be inevitable within a few years.
Research by WSU has demonstrated that about 800 college and university campuses nationally, including 13 in the state of Washington, have banned the use of tobacco, Hagihara said.
In response to questions, Chief Gardner said it was probable that enforcement of any new policy would be largely handled on the basis of complaints. Those involving WSU employees would likely be reported to Human Resource Services, while complaints involving students would be handled in accordance with student conduct code procedures.
Gardner said police would have no intention of “dragging people around in handcuffs,” should the measure pass and actually expected the university would see a fairly high level of voluntary compliance.
“I’m trying to think of a single instance in which I’ve received a belligerent or even uncooperative response from a smoker when I’ve asked them to move or comply somehow with our existing policies,” said Gardner, adding that the majority of smokers seem to try to be polite with their habit.
WSU currently enforces only existing state laws requiring smokers to maintain a minimum distance of 25 feet from all building entrances and air intakes.
In response to another question, Dr. Wright said an increasing body of research suggests the health risk to non-smokers exposed passively to the smoke of others is nearly as great as to smokers themselves. While he conceded that the level of passive exposure to cigarette smoke on campus may generally be fairly low, he said it can’t be considered safe.
“There’s no level of passive smoke you can say is safe,” he said.
Wright also said surveys by WSU Health & Wellness suggest that only 10 to 15 percent of students on the Pullman campus smoke tobacco.
The ASWSU referendum vote will be conducted on March 11 and 12.