Tobacco Task Force, Idaho Tobacco Compromise debate policy changes
Tensions rose in the long-standing debate over a proposed tobacco ban on the University of Idaho campus at an open forum Nov 19.
Members of the UI community filled the College of Law Mernard Building Courtroom to listen and offer feedback about the proposed policy at an open panel discussion prior to the holiday break.
UI’s current smoking policy permits students to smoke at least 25 feet away from campus buildings, and smoke-free tobacco products are allowed in most places. The proposed policy, offered by the Tobacco Task Force, would restrict the use of all tobacco products on UI grounds.
Three members of the task force and three members of the Idaho Tobacco Compromise, a new opposition group formed by the Economics and Veterans Clubs, discussed the pros and cons of the proposed ban. Each speaker was allocated 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to share their thoughts on the issue and members of the audience were able to ask questions and provide feedback for the last 30 minutes.
This was the first time the task force engaged in a public conversation with opposition to the ban, and the event provided substantial discussion on the topic from both sides of the debate.
Steven Peterson, assistant clinical professor of economics, introduced the Idaho Tobacco Compromise and stated his belief that prohibitions simply don’t work.
Peterson criticized multiple points of the proposed ban and argued there isn’t enough science to support claims that outdoor tobacco bans can improve campus-wide health. He called the proposed ban “class warfare” and discriminatory because it would adversely affect low-income individuals and potentially decrease enrollment of foreign students at UI.
UI senior Elicia Hunt spoke for the task force and refuted Peterson’s claims about enrollment by citing statistics about similar bans implemented at California institutions. She concluded the policies neither increased nor decreased foreign enrollment at those colleges.
Peterson said the Idaho Tobacco Compromise has drafted an alternative smoking policy that would establish designated smoking areas away from highly populated areas on campus. Peterson said he would like to see his group’s proposal in a vote against the task force’s policy, and let ASUI and Faculty Senate decide democratically.
UI junior Keith Davis said the proposed ban infringes on student rights.
“After banning the legal use of tobacco, what’s next?” Davis said. “The tobacco ban is shrouded in protecting others, but its actual effect is protecting individuals from themselves.”
UI Faculty Lecturer Wayne Price said, like Davis, he is worried about the potential snowball effect leading to more restrictions if the proposed policy were approved.
“I don’t think in an open free society we can take those choices away,” Price said. “I think there is room here for compromise.”
During their time to speak, the task force emphasized UI President Chuck Staben would ultimately make the decision.
Vandal Health Education Coordinator and task force member Emily Tuschhoff, gave a brief history of the task force, how the proposed policy came to be and the benefits tobacco-free policies have on other college campuses nationwide.
“My goal as a health educator is to really look at prevention and to look at different options that we have when it comes to prevention,” Tuschhoff said.
Task force member and Professor of Science Patricia Hartzell accused Peterson of using “fear and hyperbole” in his discussion. Hartzell focused on the impacts the proposed tobacco ban would have at UI and how the task force is preemptively planning to enforce it.
“Science shows us that there are two things that will get people to quit,” Hartzell said. “One is when we increase the cost that it just becomes prohibited and the second thing is peer pressure and that’s where we come in. What we’re doing is the peer pressure part of this.”
When the floor opened for audience questions, hands flew into the air.
One audience member wanted to know the consequences for students and faculty caught using tobacco if the proposed ban is implemented.
Hartzell said punishments for staff members would be issued to repeat offenders, and while there are no consequences set in stone, offenders would report to their supervisor in those situations.
“Students would actually go to the dean of students, so it might even be treated like an (minor in posession),” Hartzell said.
Hartzell’s answer spurred audible gasps and side-conversations from the audience. Later inquiries about her MIP comment led Hartzell to clarify that any stated punishments are hypothetical.
Another audience member asked the task force about first-year students who are required to live on campus for at least one year, and what the protocol would be if they smoke and don’t have a car to go off campus.
Hartzell and Tuschhoff said the rates of young smokers are low, so there most likely won’t be many first-year students who smoke.
Peterson said if the tobacco ban is implemented he thinks the university should eliminate the requirement for first-year students to live on campus.
Many audience members expressed the same concern as the compromise group — if the ban is approved, where will further restrictions stop?
“We’re here to talk about tobacco, that’s how the task force started,” Tuschhoff said. “Other campuses haven’t found that this is a snowball effect, that talking about smoke or tobacco leads to other, whatever you want to say, other health issues.”
Erin Bamer can be reached at email@example.com