Rights collide over smoking policy at Auraria

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Posted Wed, Mar 19, 2014

Caitlin McGee, a CCD science major sits outside the library on campus Feb. 27 to smoke.  Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu

Caitlin McGee, a CCD science major sits outside the library on campus Feb. 27 to smoke. [Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu]

DENVER, Auraria Campus — A survey conducted by MSU Denver’s Student Government Association in 2013 showed clear support for stricter smoking limitations in outdoor common areas. But for many, how the smoking policy on the Auraria Campus is determined is unclear, in part, because it is influenced by complex factors.

In spite of those survey results, MSU Denver does not have the authority to create a smoke-free campus.

However, Morgan Swaney, MSU Denver SGA director of marketing and communications said, “We can voice our opinion.”

Stakeholders in the debate include students, faculty and staff of CU Denver, MSU Denver, the Community College of Denver and the Auraria Higher Education Center. AHEC Assistant Vice President of Campus Relations, Blaine Nickeson, said the campus is home to approximately 45,000 students and 4,500 faculty and staff. Understandably, this group holds diverse opinions on the issue, and not all of their desires can be accommodated. Someone will come out unhappy in the debate.

Who decides policy?

Nickeson said that ultimately, the 11-member Auraria Board of Directors governs campus policy. However, input is piped into the board from all three institutions. The Policy Development and Shared Operations Committee, known as PODSOC, and the Student Advisory Committee to the Auraria Board provide recommendations to the board of directors.

PODSOC is a tri-institutional working sub-committee of the Auraria Executive Council. It is made up of eight members who are appointed for indefinite terms. AHEC Assistant Vice President of Operations and Services, Jeff Stamper, chairs PODSOC. Stamper said PODSOC serves as the AEC’s “boots on the ground,” by providing information and feedback for campus-related policy issues.

Stamper said PODSOC usually makes recommendations to the AEC by consensus, rather than voting. It holds open, though unadvertised meetings and includes one student member from SACAB.

SACAB is another tri-institutional committee made up of students from MSU Denver, the Community College of Denver and the University of Colorado, Denver. Opinion from the student bodies at large are collected by the three school’s SGAs and communicated to SACAB, and then via SACAB to the Auraria Board of Directors.

MSU Denver SGA and SACAB member, Ariel DeGruy said SACAB channels student opinion to the policymakers.

“I think we all have our own opinions about implementing a smoking policy, but our job in SACAB is not to make decisions based on things we want or don’t want; it is to find out, and report the opinions of our students.”

Several factors influence campus smoking policy

As stakeholders, students’, faculty’s and staff’s opinions are weighed in decision making. But opinions are mixed, even among smokers.

A girl enjoys a cigarette Feb. 27 on campus.  Currently, the Auraria Campus allows smoking in common, outdoor areas.Smoking  Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu

A girl enjoys a cigarette Feb. 27 on campus. Currently, the Auraria Campus allows smoking in common, outdoor areas.Smoking [Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu]

“It’s my own problem, you know,” CCD science major, Caitlin McGee said. She’s been smoking for about 10 years.

“It’s silly for them to pass any sort of legislation for it to be illegal to smoke outside. It’s somewhat infringing upon people’s rights,” McGee said.

Abbey Flynn, a smoker and CU Denver fine arts major, said a smoking ban wouldn’t be a big deal for her, but she said, “I know a lot of people that would hate it.”

Smokers and non-smokers said they would support designated smoking areas on the Auraria Campus.

Non-smoker Katrina Bengston, an MSU Denver psychology major, said that designated smoking areas would be a “happy medium,” but that an outright ban may cause problems.

Health issues associated with both smoking and second-hand smoke are other considerations in determining smoking policy.

“The debate on the harm of secondhand smoke ended years ago,” Jill Bednarek, Second Hand Smoke Initiatives coordinator for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said. “In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General stated ‘The scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.’”

Bednarek said tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable deaths in Colorado, killing more than 4,300 annually.

And, smoking is not only dangerous, but costly for Coloradans.

“Tobacco use costs Coloradans more than $1 billion in health care and Colorado employers more than $1 billion in lost productivity each year,” said Bednarek.

Beth Sandlin, health education and outreach coordinator at the Auraria Health Care Center, said second hand smoke can be more dangerous for some than others. Smokers’ family members, those with asthma or in wheel chairs along with faculty and staff who are on campus 40 hours weekly may be more severely impacted by second-hand smoke.

Further complicating matters, HB14-1263, a bill that would prohibit sale of tobacco to those under 21, is moving through the state legislature. Though this bill would grandfather in those who are legally able to smoke now, it could create problems for enforcement in public places, such as college campuses.

But it goes beyond that, as it is representative of a growing nationwide practice of government making public outdoor areas entirely smoke-free. Additionally, a growing number of college and university campuses across the U.S. are going either entirely, or partially smoke-free.

Signs placed near two entrances to the Plaza Building remind students of the 25-foot smoke-free zone around building entrances.  Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu

Signs placed near two entrances to the Plaza Building remind students of the 25-foot smoke-free zone around building entrances. [Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu]

McGee spoke of a new trend in society that almost isolates smokers. “Our culture is shifting the smokers further and further away from the population, and making it so that it’s more of a taboo in general.”

There’s more at stake

An anonymous adage often misattributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. says, “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” On the surface, the smoking policy debate focuses on the tension between smokers’ civil liberties and non-smokers’ right to fresh air.

But the question is larger than whose rights will prevail. The crux of the issue lies in what point legislating individual liberties and personal freedom has gone too far. It pits civil liberties against a growing “nanny state mentality.”

“Where do you draw the line?” McGee asked.

Some say it is a slippery slope that could lead to a drastic loss of personal liberty. Ari Armstrong is an advocate of free markets and property rights.

He said, “To give you an indication of how smoking bans violate civil liberties, consider that some bans prevent people from smoking on stage, in the course of presenting a work of art, and hence violate rights of free speech and expression.”

Armstrong referenced the Bill of Rights, which enumerates freedoms U.S. citizens enjoy, including a free press, freedom of religion and free speech.  For many, it is a cause for concern when these rights are threatened.

“When government does control a college campus, the best the government in control can do is seek to draw up rules that balance different people’s interests while not horribly trampling the Bill of Rights. To my mind, colleges can reasonably ban smoking inside, but not outside,” Armstrong said.

The future for campus smoking policy

Recently, there have been minor changes to campus smoking policy. Legalization of marijuana for recreational use and the rising popularity of e-cigarettes, or vapo-devices led the Auraria Board of Directors to adopt an updated smoking policy on Feb. 26.

A man walks past the white lines around an entrance to the Plaza Building Feb. 27.  The lines help people visualize the 25-foot smoke-free zone.  Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu

A man walks past the white lines around an entrance to the Plaza Building Feb. 27. The lines help people visualize the 25-foot smoke-free zone. [Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu]

The changes clarify that smoking e-cigarettes is not permitted in campus buildings, and marijuana use is not allowed on campus.

Sandlin said there’s a misconception that e-cigarettes limit risk of second-hand smoke. “There’s just not enough research on them. I mean, when we look at cigarettes, we know that it just takes many, many years for research – substantial research – to be done on the effects of smoke.”

Although Colorado has legalized recreational marijuana use, Stamper said the campus receives federal funding and can’t allow its use because of federal law.

Nickeson said last fall, lines were painted in a 25-foot perimeter in front of two entrances to the Plaza building, to limit smoke where persons more susceptible to second-hand smoke frequently enter.

More changes may soon be in store for the campus smoking policy. Stamper said PODSOC has asked each school’s SGA to conduct a smoking survey in conjunction with the RTD referendum this April. Stamper said changes will be student-driven and supportable by survey data from all three schools.

It’s impossible to make everyone happy when opposing views are mutually exclusive, DeGruy said, but the survey is an opportunity for students to voice their opinion on the issue. “We want to be fair and understanding to everyone, but sometimes that means that not everybody gets what they want, sadly.”

Voting will be the week of April 7. That same week, Sandlin said the Health Center at Auraria will kick-off a stop-smoking campaign. Sandlin said it will be available to faculty, staff and students and includes medication and counseling.

Sandlin said the combination of medications and counseling doubles the success rate. This success comes at a cost to participants, however, though insurance may cover it for some.

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For more information:

http://www.smokefreecolorado.org/main.html – Information about Colorado’s Clean Indoor Air Act and help quitting smoking

http://aclu-co.org/?s=smoking – Learn more about current civil liberties battles over smoking issues in Colorado

Call the Health Center at Auraria to schedule a tobacco cessation appointment (303) 556-2525

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html – Transcript of the Bill of Rights

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About Melanie J. Rice

Melanie Rice is a journalism student at MSU Denver, with an emphasis on both visual and written content.

View all posts by Melanie J. Rice

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