December 3, 2020

New Webster smoking policy repercussions unclear for students, faculty

For the past decade, associate professor Larry Granda always knew where he could smoke on campus. Since Webster implemented its smoke and tobacco free policy, Granda is unsure where he is allowed to smoke.

“There was an elderly lady walking her dog down the sidewalk this morning,” Granda said.

“I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Where do I go? Do I just stand there, hold my ground and say, ‘No, you have to walk into the grass because I can’t? Or do I step off the sidewalk into the grass and violate the policy so that this lady can walk down the sidewalk?”

Granda said the boundaries determining where he can smoke are unclear. He said the restrictions outlined in the policy defy its very spirit: to reduce secondhand smoke.

Effective Aug. 15, the policy “strictly prohibits the use of any and all forms of tobacco and other nicotine products and smoking devices.” Now, all smokers must turn to the city-owned sidewalks bordering university property.

Granda said not only will Webster Groves residents have to walk through plumes of smoke, but he foresaw the sidewalks being littered with cigarette butts as well. Granda rolls his own filterless cigarettes but felt other smokers might not be as environmentally conscious.

Though he described the policy as a personal inconvenience, Granda believed students would be more adversely affected.

Student Government Association President Vladimir Radojkovic also criticized the policy due to the potential harm it could bring to students.

“In some cases, cigarettes actually help some students,” Radojkovic said. “Students are stressed, and I think mental stress is much more dangerous than any cigarette.”

Radojkovic said he received complaints about the policy from students, professors, food service workers, public safety officers and work colleagues.

“I personally disagree [with the policy], but I mean, we live in a civilized society,” Radojkovic said. “I have a plan to talk to the administration, to find a shade of the gray because life is not black and white.”

Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin recognized the impact the policy will have on campus.

“We have to be cognizant that this is a brand new policy change,” Giblin said. “We have passed a new policy that’s going to affect some people’s lifestyles, and so that’s definitely a consideration.”

Radojkovic said international students are going to have a tougher time adjusting to the change.

“People don’t realize international students are most likely to be smokers,” Radojkovic said. “In the United States, smoking is banned a lot of places, but not where I’m coming from. I have a lot of friends from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and the eastern part of the globe, and most of my friends who complained to me are not American.”

Radojkovic felt designated smoking areas could be a compromise worth exploring. Nachaphol Phattharakulnij, a senior from the Thailand campus, agreed.

“At the Thailand campus, we have a small wooden pavilion, and that’s the only place people are allowed to smoke,” Phattharakulnij said.

Phattharakulnij said smoking was common in Thailand, and the smoke free policy might frustrate other Thai students studying abroad at the Webster Groves campus.

“I think it’s better to have someplace where people can smoke, to make it so they can smoke if they need to,” Phattharakulnij said. “Allowing them the freedom to smoke somewhere is better than not allowing students to smoke at all.”

Sophomore Luke Seddon proudly supported the policy change. He said he felt smoking on campus was problematic for his health last year.

“I have terrible asthma, so I love [the policy],” Seddon said. “I love not having to feel like I’m going to get an asthma attack every time I walk in and out of a building. I know not everybody is going to follow the rule, but I wish they would.”

Radojkovic said people will adjust to the policy, in one way or another.

“Everyone will adapt eventually,” Radojkovic said. “I think people are always going to be able to find a way to smoke. I mean cigarettes are not illegal so they don’t have to hide, they just have to choose wisely where.”

According to the policy’s terminology, the Department of Public Safety, Office of the Dean of Students and Office of Human Resources are primarily responsible for the policy’s compliance.

Granda was confused about the enforcement of the ban and the repercussions of its violation.

“I have more questions about it now than I did before,” Granda said. “I think I’m over the initial shock and disbelief. I’ve gone through the denial phase, I’ve gone through the anger phase, and now I’m just at the confused phase. I’ve given up on trying to understand.”

Giblin said the administration does not want to “crack down too hard” on smokers at this point. He said the goal is to educate people about the policy change, rather than reprimand them.

“We realize this is a new policy,” Giblin said. “It’s going to take some people some time to get used to it, so I don’t think we want to immediately come down too hard on people. I think the first stage of this is trying to educate people that the policy has changed.”

Granda said when he talked to public safety officers about the ban, they told him they would not penalize him for violating the policy.

Granda said if the university’s goal was to provide a “healthy environment for all of its students, employees and campus visitors,” they have much more work to do.

“If they want to try to sell it to people as in the sense that we’re encouraging you to live a healthier life, then they need to take a bigger look around at what’s going on,” Granda said. “Will they start putting fans in the parking garage to vent out the exhaust from the cars? And I see more people walking around with giant, enormous, 64 ounce things of soda [than with cigarettes].”

 

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