After months of whispered rumors floating around campus, the tobacco-free news is finally here. President Richard Davenport sent out a campus-wide email Tuesday about Minnesota State University, Mankato’s revised Tobacco Policy.
As of Jan. 1, tobacco use will be prohibited on all University property and in University owned or leased vehicles. The policy bans all tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco.
Students currently living in the residence halls will still be allowed to use tobacco outside of their residence halls, however this exception to the rule will be revoked as of May 15, 2012 after spring semester ends.
The policy came into effect after the Minnesota State College and University Board of Trustees strongly encouraged MnSCU institutions to reduce tobacco use on campuses across the state.
“It’s bigger than just the University. It’s state and local stuff that has driven us to this point,” said MSSA President Matt Lexcen.
After 30 years of health professionals destroying the image of smoking, MnSCU and the University has been forced to face the public pressure and make the switch to tobacco-free.
“After the next five years, there probably isn’t going to be a tobacco-friendly campus in Minnesota,” Lexcen said.
Restaurants and other public locations have already gone smoke-free, and non-profit organizations have put extreme pressure on public universities to go smoke-free too.
Over the past year, MSU officials have discussed transitioning to a tobacco-free campus and made the final decision after consulting with student and bargaining unit leadership.
Lexcen said that because MSU is a public institution and receive state funding, the University is forced to comply with state regulations and recommendations.
Because the policy has recently come into effect, the University is unsure as to how they are going to enforce the tobacco ban.
“All members of the campus community are empowered and encouraged to approach and advise violators, in a non-confrontational manner, of the campus smoking policy,” as stated in the official University Tobacco Policy.
Lexcen said enforcement is going to be a difficult, long process but the University hopes to change campus culture in order to deter smokers. Incoming students will know MSU is a tobacco-free campus. University officials hope the culture will change and eventually it won’t be a problem anymore.
“The one thing that would stop me from smoking would be for someone to tell me a joke and make me feel legitimately bad about what I’m doing,” Lexcen said.
Lexcen said that there probably won’t be any major changes during spring semester, or even throughout the next academic year.
“It’s all baby steps,” Lexcen said. “There isn’t a best practice on how to do this stuff which makes this difficult.
Geographic location has a large impact on the effectiveness of the ban. Because MSU is so spread out, it’s difficult for students to walk across campus between classes or during their break at work.
Lexcen is not only worried about enforcement, but also the negative impact the ban could have on properties surrounding campus. Highland Hills and University Square may become smoker’s hangouts, and the University doesn’t wish to impose large groups of smokers or mounds of cigarette butts on these properties.
As a part of the transition, MSU will begin offering health information and awareness services to students, faculty and staff. Grant funds will be provided by Blue Earth County Public Health using State-Wide Help Improvement dollars to support an awareness campaign.
“We’re fine owning it. We’re going to do it. It’s happening. But explaining how we’re going to do it is difficult,” Lexcen said.