On Sept. 15, Portland State joined more than 1,000 other campuses across the nation and banned the use of all tobacco products on campus property.
As part of PSU’s Healthy Campus Initative, the University Policy Committee passed the Smoke and Tobacco Free Campus Policy following a campus-wide survey in 2012 that showed a majority of respondents in favor of the ban.
With ambiguous boundaries, problematic litter and an unclear road ahead for enforcement, advocates for the Smoke and Tobacco Free Campus Policy still face many challenges on the road to long-term change.
Upon first glance, the new guidelines appear effective, according to representatives from the Campus Public Safety Office.
“[At first there were] 30 to 40 people [warned about smoking on campus per] day,” said Sergeant Joseph Schilling, Police Sergeant for the Campus Public Safety Offices. “The second week it was down to 15 or 20; the third week was five or six…just non-existent.”
Schilling cited ignorance of policy as the primary reason students continue to smoke in prohibited areas.
However, tobacco use and litter from cigarettes continue to be problematic, even within the defined smoke-free boundaries.
“Cigarette butts are the most common litter collected on our clean-up walks,” said Campus Rec, in a post from their Twitter account on Sunday. An informational handout cites commitment to “wellness, health and safety of [PSU] students and the sustainability and cleanliness of our campus” as reasons for implementing the policy.
With these focal points in mind, compliance is still a barrier in the campaign to eliminate tobacco from campus.
“It’s culture change,” said Julie Weissbuch-Allina, director of health promotion at the Center for Student Health and Counseling. “It takes time for our PSU community to catch up to the policy. We know that.”
“[We] are spending a lot of time this year doing a lot of education and assessment of policy so we can better implement programming and more targeted education,” she continued.
Weissbuch-Allina explained that work with CPSO and facilities staff will help determine problem areas, as well as the best approach for continued education and targeted enforcement.
Currently, CPSO ranks enforcement of this policy low on their list, describing a passive approach.
“We’re out there to give information to make sure people are safe, give them the information they need, and then if they’re cooperative and they’ve moving on from that, then we can move on as well,” Schilling said.
It would take a significant act of retaliation to escalate a smoking violation to the Student Conduct Committee.
The low risk for penalty leaves questions about the motivation for students, faculty and staff to discontinue the use of tobacco products on campus.
“I don’t think a formal warning would be sufficient and fines would need to be actually enforced,” said Otto Zietz, a graduate student and tobacco user.
Though Zietz makes a point not to smoke on campus property, he knows that he doesn’t necessarily represent the majority.
The policy seems to have impacted some, but it may only be reaching those who were already conscientious smokers.
“I think there are smokers like me that recognize that smoking is disruptive and a health risk to others and will respect the new rules. Other smokers will disregard the new rules and continue smoking in newly prohibited areas,” Zietz said.
Small business-sized cards are available for students, staff and faculty to hand to those in violation of the policy.
“[The cards] make it easier for folks to talk with people and says basically, ‘Hey, did you know that PSU is smoke and tobacco free?’,” Weissbuch-Allina said. “I give them to people all the time and it’s a really easy, nonconfrontational way.”
Other students are in agreement with Zietz and don’t feel like peer enforcement will solve the problem.
“[Enforcement] wouldn’t work unless [smokers] see a person of authority—like campus police,” said Shree Aier, an undergraduate student.
Graduate student Audrey Siefert agrees. “I would not approach someone directly who was in violation of the policy,” Siefert said. “I would contact Campus Safety and let an officer address the situation.”
While CPS officers said they are more than happy to offer information to tobacco users in violation of the policy, time is an issue.
“An officer will go by when they’re available, but usually that’s more than a couple minutes, and usually that means the smokers are gone so we rarely find them,” Schilling said.
An issue of respect
Ty Patterson, former director of the National Center for Tobacco Policy, now consults with campuses across the country in the development stages of tobacco-free policies, including many campuses in Oregon.
When it comes to enforcement, Patterson doesn’t rely on CPS officers to enforce long-term change.
“Complying with any policy should be self-enforced and not dependent on being caught and punished by some external authority,” Patterson said. “The idea that it is okay to violate a policy you think is wrong if you are not going to be punished must be replaced with voluntary compliance.”
Patterson has found success in approaching tobacco-free policies from a message of respect, rather than health-focused campaigns.
“When it’s a health-driven initiative, you also get people who say, ‘Look, it’s not the college’s business to tell me what is in my health interest,’” Patterson said. “Make the policy based on respect and then have as an advantage that it will help people who want to quit, or it possibly serves as a message of the damaging effects of tobacco use for those who haven’t taken it up yet.”
While respect is an element included in PSU’s campaign, it is just one of many.
“The enemy of any kind of policy or rule is ambiguity,” Patterson said. “One of the most significant factors [PSU] is going to have to overcome is the topography and the campus and its relationship to non-vacated public thoroughfare.”
Boundaries will continue to be an obstacle, especially since PSU is an urban campus with significant foot traffic from members of the community who are unaffiliated with the campus.
With the removal of designated smoking areas, cigarette litter also poses an ongoing problem, both on and off campus.
“One of the messages in our campaign is to be courteous to our neighbors,” Weissbuch-Allina said. “So if you are on PSU property and you have to step off property and that happens to be in front of our neighbors, we’re asking you to be respectful.”
The emphasis on respect is echoed throughout the policy: respect for neighbors, respect for the environment and respect for peers.
Because the health risks of smoke are not in question, focusing on respect may be an effective approach moving forward.
Aier agreed with a message of respect.
“Students who smoke should not be shunned,” Aier said. “Moreover, it is as important to have specific bins around campus which allow for students and other people to discard cigarette butts to lessen the burden environmentally.”
In addition to respect for fellow students, Siefert emphasized respect for campus and the surrounding environment.
“This ban will help to minimize the amount of tobacco product litter and air pollution, as well as provide a safe and health-conscious environment for students and staff to thrive in,” Siefert said.
While policy enforcement may be more successful with an emphasis on respect, the university will continue to support student health.
PSU’s healthy campus initiative includes several resources and options to help students, faculty and staff quit smoking. Students have access to health educators through the Student Health and Counseling Center, with whom they can meet and begin strategizing ways to give up tobacco.
“Discussion includes identifying motivators, potential obstacles/triggers, and things you can implement to keep you on track all in a non-judgmental supportive environment,” according to PSU’s Healthy Campus informational website.
“With the help of the health educator, you will decide what option is best for you such as using Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) (gum or patch) or through prescription medication.”
SHAC’s health educators customize programs to fit the needs of students. This includes follow up appointments and consultation.
Students may also access SHAC’s acupuncture services as a strategy for smoking cessation. The healthy campus website lists several tobacco-related benefits from acupuncture, including treatment of cravings, restlessness, jitters and irritability during nicotine detox.
PSU’s student health insurance, Pacific Source, also implemented its Quit for Life program on Sept. 20. This no-cost program provides ongoing support to participants attempting to quit tobacco use.
The full Smoke and Tobacco free Campus Policy can be found at here.
Additional Reporting by Colleen Leary.