While upset student smokers filled the gallery in the Stern Center Ballroom, SGA passed a resolution in favor of a tobacco-free campus with a roll call vote of 14-8. Several minutes following the decision, Faculty Senate voted against a similar resolution 15-14. The decision ultimately falls to the Board of Trustees; however, both SGA and Faculty Senate’s decisions will be taken into consideration.
The tobacco-free campus initiative originated with the student body during the spring 2012 SGA elections, which submitted a poll to students, asking them if they supported the initiative. According to SGA President Erica Arbetter, while only about 12 percent of the student body voted in the election, 80 percent who answered the poll said they wanted a tobacco-free campus.
Further support grew from a $10,000 grant given by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. If a decision is made by the Board of Trustees to work toward a tobacco-free campus, the money will go toward informing students about the new policy through outlets, such as social media, education and signage.
Senator Lauren O’Grady presented the SGA resolution today, telling those in the ballroom that “our goal is to create a healthy learning environment.” O’Grady pointed out that other South Carolina schools are making the transition. For example, MUSC went tobacco-free back in March 2012.
Both students and faculty raised concerns regarding the enforcement of the policy. Currently, the College has 24 designated smoking areas scattered throughout campus. While students are told not to smoke in front of school building doorways or non-designated areas, many continue to do so.
The resolutions brought up in SGA and Faculty Senate supported an enforcement policy where there will no longer be designated smoking areas and students have the right to tell a smoker to politely smoke somewhere else off-campus. However, the responsibility lies with the smoker, and if they decide not to move, they can’t be punished.
Proponents of the SGA resolution said the change would empower the individual rather than set a strict ban. Senator Khadija Kershaw said, “We are giving the students a right to ask someone to please stop smoking.” While individuals like Kershaw supported such a policy, some considered it an insult to student smokers.
Senator Ian Moore, who was against the resolution, addressed the issue that the resolution suppressed a minority’s rights. He said, “If we take away the smoking areas and ashtrays, we are trampling on the rights of the minority.” Senator Dylan Frick shared similar views, and said, “I think we should also represent the minority and not just the majority.”
Other senators argued that the minority’s right will not be taken away with the shift toward a tobacco-free campus. Senator Matthew Gay, who voted in favor of the resolution, said, “We are not taking your right to smoke away. We’re just asking you to move it to another area. You have the right to bear arms, but we ask you not to bring them to school.”
Other senators, such as Nathan Wills and Sean Stivaletta, argued that while students have a right to smoke if they so please, other students also have the right to clean air. In referring to the strong opposition in the gallery from non-voting students, Wills said, “The majority of the campus does not smoke. We need to account for those voices and not the majority present in this room.”
Stivaletta said, “I want to make sure [smoking] remains a choice. It’s your personal freedom to do what you want to, but people have a right to clean air.”
However, many non-voting students in the gallery said they perceived the resolution as hindering their choice to smoke. Allyson Smith addressed this concern, and said, “It’s our choice. We don’t want the designated areas taken away. I live here. I pay for my school.”
Regardless of the strong opposition from non-voting students in the gallery, SGA voted in favor of the resolution with support from non-voting SGA President Arbetter. “Our students have indicated they are more inclined to accept healthier options. It’s doing 80 percent of what our students want. Tobacco kills and it doesn’t belong on a college campus,” Arbetter said after the resolution passed. “We can continue to perpetuate the problem or we can be part of the solution.”
While the decision was split between SGA and Faculty Senate, the Executive Vice Presidents will consider both voting results when they make a decision later this week. Stay tuned for further updates about the tobacco-free initiative on campus.