A student walks out of Penn State’s Pattee Library and stops with his back toward flowerbeds littered with gold cigarette butts. He pulls out a smoke and lights the familiar glow.
That scene is repeated across the campus wherever student and employee smokers huddle, but it might be one that will soon fade.
Penn State President Eric Barron’s 17-member task force, named in January, is at work looking into prohibiting the use of tobacco and any products that create smoke, such as cigarettes and e-cigarettes, anywhere on university property.
Discussion about a smoke-free campus began in the 1990s, but the idea was abandoned as infeasible because of the large number of smokers, task force member Alex Shockley said.
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Things are different today. Shockley said a survey by the American College Health Association found that out of the 2,000 students who responded, 1.5 percent smoke cigarettes daily. The number rose to just 2.3 percent when including those who smoke daily or every other day.
Shockley is the speaker of the University Park Undergraduate Association assembly. In March 2016, the association issued a report supporting a smoke-free university. Nine of the Big Ten’s 14 schools have a smoke-free or tobacco-free policy. The association’s report was modeled on the University of Michigan’s policy, the first in the Big Ten.
“If students can’t drink on campus,” Shockley asked, “why should they smoke, when smoking can be argued to have more of a negative effect on you in the long term than alcohol?”
Lena Matthias, tobacco-free campus coordinator at the University of Michigan, said its policy went into effect in 2011, two years after the university’s president approved it.
“They tried to prepare the campus ahead of time that this was happening, and when we went smoke-free it was pretty smooth. We didn’t have a lot of issues or complaints,” Matthias said.
Among smokers and non-smokers at Penn State, views differ on a smoke-free future.
“Sometimes I get annoyed when people decide to smoke and walk on the sidewalks,” said sophomore Christina Dudzik, a non-smoker.
Smoking a cigarette outside of the library, Ben Johnson, a sophomore, said he would respect someone’s request for him to move to a different location or to put the cigarette out if the smoke was bothering them, but he does not think smoking should be prohibited across the campus.
Sophomore Sangeetha Kannan said she does not smoke cigarettes but believes a smoke-free policy is unnecessary.
“Smoking doesn’t really bother me,” she said. “A lot of my friends smoke, so I guess I am just used to it.”
Kannan said she does not know how the university would enforce the policy but does not think students would oblige.
The University of Michigan uses “soft enforcement,” Matthias said, which excludes enforcement by ticketing and relies on educational reminders, signs around campus and a smoking cessation program or nicotine therapy.
Sonam Peldom, a Penn State international graduate student also smoking outside the library, said she is graduating in May so any new policy wouldn’t affect her. If it did, she said, it would encourage her to smoke less.
Aubree Rader is a Penn State journalism student.