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Smoke and Mirrors: A One-Year Review of the UA's Tobacco and Nicotine Policy

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Tom Price | The Daily Wildcat

Ana Lucia Quinones, a junior studying film and television, smokes a cigarette on Park Avenue on the UA campus Tuesday, Aug. 25.

Dillon Ramage was smoking outside Caffe Luce just steps away from the UA campus on a Tuesday afternoon, talking about a run-in he had earlier that morning.

“We were all smoking in that place between our classes,” said Ramage, a senior studying film and television, “and this guy—he looked like a maintenance worker—he didn’t say anything, but he definitely gave us a dirty, disapproving look and just shook his head and walked away.”

Ramage said he started smoking regularly when he could legally buy cigarettes at 18. These days, he smokes about a pack a day.

A year ago this week, the UA implemented a new Smoking and Tobacco Policy, “[prohibiting] the use of products that contain tobacco or nicotine” on all campus property. According to Ramage, that policy hasn’t had any effect on his smoking habits.

“I’ve always tried not to smoke around a lot of people,” he said. “Even when the ban wasn’t in place at all, I’d always try to find like a corner, a nook or cranny somewhere that I could smoke in where I wouldn’t affect too many people. I still do that now.”

Ana Lucia Quinones, a junior studying film and television, said she feels similarly. When the ban was first announced last year, Quinones originally took notice.

“I was a little bit more careful about my surroundings, I guess. I would kind of ask people if it was okay if I had a cigarette, if it bothered them. That was about it, though.”

Sometimes people would tell Quinones not to smoke near them. Usually, though, they told her to go ahead.

Quinones has been smoking since she was 15, and she, too, says there has been no difference between her smoking pattern during her freshman year, when tobacco was permitted on campus, and her sophomore year, when it was banned.

“[My friends and I] were pretty upset about the ban when it first started,” she said. “Like, ‘What’s going to happen? I want to smoke on campus. […] I’m over 18, I should be able to smoke.’ But eventually, we just didn’t care.”

When asked about student testimonials like this, Melissa Vito, senior vice president for student affairs, said, “I’m not sure that I would call that a complete study.”

While a scattered handful of students willing to speak to a reporter about their tobacco use is not indicative of the wider campus culture, these personal stories are all we have, because the university has not yet begun gathering data about the campus ban with an eye to potential enforcement mechanisms.

“This is not a policy that is static,” Vito acknowledged, but she said the next step is a conversation about whether to include e-cigarettes in the ban.

For now, enforcement is on the back burner. “We haven’t really considered it,” Vito said.

Arizona State University’s administration, though, has.

Starting in June, ASU began issuing $50 fines to those found violating its tobacco-free policy, which is a year older than the UA’s. Further violations lead to a referral to the Dean of Students Office for students, or a direct supervisor for faculty and staff.

“Over time, it was evident that social enforcement was not incentive enough for ongoing compliance for some smokers,” ASU Director of Wellness Karen Moses told The State Press. Moses did not respond to the Daily Wildcat’s phone calls and emails seeking comment.

Some UA students agree with ASU’s logic, and they have started a petition on the Campaign for Common Sense website calling for the university to “enforce the UA smoking and tobacco policy,” arguing that the “UAPD should ticket smokers.”

Tom Price / The Daily Wildcat

According to its website, “[the] Campaign for Common Sense offers the UA community the opportunity to question current practices and propose more sensible approaches.”

Allison Vaillancourt, vice president of human resources and institutional effectiveness for the UA, who oversees the Campaign for Common Sense, believes that the petition is premature.

The tobacco ban, she said in an email, “represents a significant cultural shift.… Though the policy has been in effect for only a year, there is broad agreement that there is far less tobacco use on campus.”

Vaillancourt did not, however, cite any evidence to that effect.

Student Health Advocacy Committee co-president Sona Shahbazian said she agrees with Vaillancourt.

“We think that in its first year, its inaugural year, [the tobacco policy] has made a change on campus,” Shahbazian said. “So we’re happy.”

Dean of Students Kendal Washington White thinks that giving her office or the University of Arizona Police Department the responsibility of actively enforcing the policy would be “an impossible task and not the most efficient use of human resources.”

SHAC’s other co-president, Aaron Brussels, has mixed feelings.

“I understand where [ASU is] coming from, because enforcement is a big concern for these kinds of things,” Brussels said. “But the goal of the UA’s tobacco policy is to change the culture as opposed to punishing smokers or tobacco-users.”

This logic mirrors Vaillancourt’s. She argues that each of the hundreds of American colleges or universities that are tobacco-free had used a different approach.

“The [UA] decided to focus on establishing community standards, rather than using punitive sanctions to change behavior,” she said.

Besides, Shabhazian argues, “This policy is coming in strides. We’re still working on making sure there’s proper signage around campus.”

This was a point Vito emphasized, as well. “We need to see if we do get more traction as there is more signage and as we go into another year of this,” she said.

Cynthia Thomson, professor of public health and director of the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline, doesn’t think that plan will work.

“Posting does little to change behavior for most of us,” she explained. “Yes, it’s a little check on our conscience and … it might drive a small amount of our behavior, but not much. I mean, the reason we stop at a red light is because we don’t want to be killed. We don’t stop there because someone told us we have to stop there. Most of us are not that conforming.”

Social enforcement may be a particularly bad idea among youth.

“Especially when you think about a campus where people are coming together, it’s a whole shift in their lifestyle. They’re moving away from home, they’re meeting new people and there’s a huge pressure to fit in and make it work,” Thomson explained. “So the last thing they want to be doing is blowing the whistle on their peers and potential future friends.”

When social enforcement does occur, it can create a more uncomfortable campus environment for everyone involved. Ramage told a story from last semester about a girl who repeatedly butted heads with his smoking group.

“Our smoking schedule was like her transportation schedule,” Ramage said, and she would tell Ramage and his friends that they weren’t supposed to be smoking. “And one of my friends­—he was very deadpan—he … took a big puff of his cigarette and blew it out kind of toward her. It was a little rude, but the smoke didn’t go in her face or whatever. She was far enough away where it wouldn’t really affect her. I think she was taking that ‘social enforcement’ thing a little seriously.”

When asked whether adding a fine might make a bigger difference than confrontations like these, Thomson replied, “It could.”

In the end, she explained, when the government can’t convince people that running a red light will kill them, the police write them a ticket, and that’s why “enforcement may be more effective in this age group.”

Still, Thomson cautioned, “It’s an addiction. It is not something that people just go, ‘Well, I’m just not going to smoke because I don’t want to pay a $50 fine.’”

“Over 85 percent of smokers started before age 18,” Thomson said. “That’s why I would say the message is really, ‘If you’re a smoker, we’re going to put you in an environment for the next four years where it’s smoke-free.’ So that’s one step toward quitting. Now let us help you through [Arizona Smokers’ Helpline] and other services to quit altogether.”

The ASHLine has a quit-rate of 30 percent after seven months, Thomson explains, whereas “cold turkey has about a 1-to-2 percent effectiveness for 30 days, and longer-term it doesn’t even help.”

While Thomson argues that a “no smoking” sign never convinced anybody not to light up, Vito stands by the idea that better communication needs to occur before any fines are imposed.

“We try not to fine people for a lot of things,” Vito said. “It may be that a year from now, we decide that we need to add some sanctions to this or take a different approach, but I believe that as we enter year two, we need to give this a better grounding in communication.”

Jake Croft / The Daily Wildcat

Quinones and Ramage both shared a lack of understanding about the tobacco policy.

Ramage thought there was already a fine for smoking.

“I was under the assumption there was a fine,” Ramage said. “I didn’t know there wasn’t until, I think, now.”

Quinones had also heard rumors about a fine.

“I heard about a case that somebody got fined,” she said. “Yeah, like $5,000.”

UAPD did not respond to calls regarding the rumored fine, but the Smoking and Tobacco Policy does not list a fine or citation as a possible consequence.

Anna, a political science senior who asked that her name be changed for this story for health insurance reasons, knew that there was no fine for tobacco use on campus, but she was under the impression that e-cigarettes were included in the policy.

“When I read the rules, they had e-cigarettes in there,” Anna said.

Anna smoked cigarettes for three years, starting when she was 16. Last year, she switched over to using an e-cigarette. Despite her belief that e-cigarettes were banned on campus, she continued to use hers.

“I’ve, like, smoked blunts walking across campus and nobody’s said anything,” she said, “so I couldn’t really imagine them caring about e-cigarettes.”

If she was asked to, though, Anna says she would put her e-cigarette away on campus.

“I’m not doing it to offend anybody, I’m just doing it so I don’t have a headache,” she explained.

But so long as she can get away with it, Anna said she’ll continue. “I mostly do it because I haven’t found a good enough reason to stop yet.”

Ramage agrees that the lack of enforcement makes it easier to continue.

“I’ve never gotten in trouble or whatever,” he said. “It’s just like, ‘Oh, don’t smoke here, please.’ But if you do, what’s going to happen? Nothing’s ever happened.”

Unlike Anna, though, he doesn’t think he would stop lighting up if enforcement picked up.

“I would still keep smoking in places I find reasonable,” Ramage argued. “I’m going to keep smoking no matter what. I know it’s bad for me. I realize all the health consequences, and I think I smoke for different reasons. I’m not worried about my health right now. And however they’re going to try to police it, people are still going to keep smoking.”

The SHAC co-presidents don’t think Ramage or Anna’s attitudes are relevant in evaluating the policy’s success, though, because they are both upperclassmen.

“Once we have four years of undergraduates coming in, we’re going to have an entire undergraduate population that knows the UA as a tobacco-free community, and then we’ll be able to reasonably judge how we’ve changed opinion,” Brussels argued.

Thomson thinks the UA already has an advantage in building a tobacco-free culture.

“It can be a blessing to be at the [UA] because Arizona has some of the lowest smoking rates in the country,” she said. “There’s a lot of outdoor activity,… so I think there’s more of a wellness environment that permeates into the issue of smoking and vaping.”

Encouraging the growth of that wellness culture will continue to be the UA’s main strategy for reducing the instance of tobacco and nicotine use on campus for at least the next year.

“If we enforce it strictly, there will be people who will be upset about that; if it’s not enforced strictly enough, it clearly can make some other people upset,” Vito said. “So we have to take an approach that we believe makes the most sense within this campus community.”

That approach, she says, involves “more signage, more communication, more active conversations, [examining] the issues around e-cigarettes, and then [engaging] a broader campus conversation with student leadership and others about what our next steps ought to be.”

Meanwhile, as ASU and the UA battle it out over the best way to enforce their respective tobacco bans, Northern Arizona University is moving toward implementing its own tobacco and nicotine policy, which will see “full implementation next August,” according to Daniel Bruey, director of administration NAU’s Campus Health Services and chair of the new policy’s Implementation Team.

And how will NAU enforce its ban?

“We will be relying on social enforcement,” Bruey said.


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