University considers tobacco ban

by Mary K. Schaffer February 18, 2012

Because of a new grant requirement from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the University must decide by March 1, 2012 whether it will institute a tobacco-free policy on campus.

On January 18, 2012, CPRIT ruled that all institutions receiving grants, now and in the future, must adopt a tobacco-free policy. In the Feb. 2 press release, CPRIT Executive Director Bill Gimson said the policy was adopted in order to “make a dent in the 25, 000 Texans who die from tobacco each year.” If it does not adopt the new policy, the University could lose $88 million in research funds this year, which could prove detrimental to the University’s research, director of the University’s HealthPoint program Adrienne Howarth-Moore said.

“Cancer prevention research, including research funded by CPRIT, is vital to [the University’s] overall research mission. This research, in particular, is very important because its purpose is to save lives now and in the future by eradicating cancer,” Howarth-Moore said.

Currently, the University maintains a policy that allows tobacco on campus, but only if smokers remain at least 20 feet from building entrances. The policy does not allow smoking in University-owned buildings or vehicles. The new policy, if adopted, would ban the use of tobacco in any part of campus. The policy applies to all buildings, including parking lots and adjacent sidewalks, in which CPRIT research is carried out, according to CPRIT’s final ruling. Because so many University buildings are involved in cancer research, this will most likely encompass the entire campus, Juan Sanchez, UT’s Vice President for Research, told The Alcalde.

In the past, student organizations have advocated for a stricter smoking policy, including a tobacco ban. Matt Haviland, public health senior and president of the UT Texas Public Health Organization, said his organization has both talked with administrators at all levels to garner support for a tobacco-free policy and surveyed the campus community.

“The majority of students–over 70%–want some sort of change to the current smoking policy on campus. Fifty percent of the people we surveyed said flat out that they wanted a full tobacco ban,” Haviland said. 

Despite student support for a tobacco ban, President William Powers Jr. said in a March 2011 address to Staff Council that a tobacco ban would infringe on students’ and employees’ personal rights. Powers spoke in response to a resolution Student Government passed in March 2011 that called for a seven-year process to ban smoking across campus, saying that a ban would alienate too many people.

“What we’re doing is saying we are going to limit the freedom of the person who wants to smoke for the benefit of the people who don’t want to be in a smoke-filled office or room,” Powers said in the address, according to a March 2011 Daily Texan article.

However, since the announcement that CPRIT will pull funding from the University if it does not comply with a tobacco-free policy, Powers might change his mind. The University currently depends on $31 million dollars in research funding, according to Howarth-Moore.

“I think that the University will almost certainly adopt at least some form of a policy which more proactively limits the use of tobacco. I can’t see us not being tobacco free five years from now, so I would prefer it happen sooner rather than later. More lives saved,” Haviland said.

Reducing tobacco use on campus would indeed save lives, according to University Health Services, which implemented a program called “Quitters” to help students and faculty quit smoking. The Student Organization Safety Board implemented a similar program, called “Tobacco Talks,” to empower students to make their own decisions about tobacco.

“We are interested in the conversation students need to be having about their choices while on campus. We want students to be informed,” finance senior and co-chair of the Student Organization Safety Board Tony Flor said.

Despite such resources about tobacco on campus and risks to students’ and employees’ health from secondhand smoke exposure, no serious action has been taken to implement a tobacco ban on campus, though the issue did arise in March 2011 to ban smoking.

Until at least March 1, though, the University remains friendly to smokers.

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