Campus smoking ban sparks debate

Jody Serrano

The University’s efforts to comply with new anti-tobacco requirements from its funding providers has sparked debate over which areas of UT such a policy may affect.

The Cancer Prevention Resource Institute of Texas released guidelines on Feb. 2 calling for all current and future entities receiving research funds from their institute to enact tobacco-free policies by March 1. UT spokeswoman Adrienne Howarth-Moore said UT’s current policy only addresses smoking on campus and does not address the other forms of tobacco use.

UT has received more than $30 million for cancer research from CPRIT and plans to apply for about $88 million more next year. CPRIT was created by a Texas constitutional amendment in 2007 that authorized the state to deliver $3 billion for cancer research. To date, CPRIT has awarded 364 grants and almost $600 million across Texas, according to its officials.

Howarth-Moore said the wording of CPRIT’s guidelines make creating a new tobacco policy a complicated process. She said there are many professors on campus doing cancer research in places like L. Theo Bellmont Hall, Robert A. Welch Hall and the Main Building but can change research locations throughout the semester, which raises questions about exactly where these enforcements will be made.

“We’re trying to figure out exactly what impacts our campus,” Howarth-Moore said, “and how many buildings we have CPRIT-funded activities going on in. The list keeps growing as we identify different resources."

Howarth-Moore said she does not anticipate any resistance from the UT System if the University does decide to implement a campus-wide tobacco ban or another variation of the policy. She said any policy adopted by UT would not be enforced with fines but with education, communication and direction to tobacco cessation resources.

CPRIT’s policy includes all buildings and structures where funded research takes place to be tobacco-free, including sidewalks, parking lots, walkways and immediately adjacent and attached parking structures. The policy applies to all property owned, operated, leased, occupied or controlled by UT.

Rebecca Garcia, CPRIT’s chief prevention officer, said CPRIT adopted the policy because all tobacco products are harmful and are linked to various cancers and diseases. Garcia said approximately 24,000 Texans die each year from tobacco-related diseases and that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Texas.

“We hope that all tobacco users will quit, but we recognize some may choose to continue to use these products and that this policy may make it more inconvenient for them,” Garcia said. “By enacting this policy, CPRIT is sending the message that we want to work with organizations that share our mission and are as serious about fighting cancer as we are.”

Erika Frahm, chairwoman for Staff Council, said Staff Council had originally been against the Student Government resolution calling for a smoke free campus in 2011 because of the restrictive nature of the proposal. Frahm said staff members do not have the flexible schedules that students and faculty do, and the SG policy would have been very restrictive on staff members, some of whom only receive two 15-minute breaks a day.

“In the past, there was the questions about enforcement and why we need this and who has the right to dictate what wellness looks like,” Frahm said. “In the present day, it deals with funding sources for cancer, and that changes the game plan.”

Frahm said many members of Staff Council still have concerns over the enforcement of tobacco policy on campus. She said Staff Council will work together with UT administration to look for ways to equitably enforce a tobacco policy on campus, and to make sure the administration is aware that there are people with various lifestyles.

Anthony Pekowski, a radio-television-film senior, said he started smoking when he was 14 years old and considers himself addicted to tobacco. Pekowski said he smokes cigarettes in between classes to help him focus and participate in class, and a tobacco ban harms his ability to be a good student.

“I am entirely against this,” Pekowski said. “I think it is impending on my rights and my freedoms as a student and as a citizen. I’m going to keep on smoking even if they do enact a tobacco ban.”

Matt Portillo, music and rhetoric and writing senior and former University-wide representative, said he opposed the Student Government resolution last year and opposes the tobacco ban this year. Portillo said it was unfair to ask students and visitors of the University to change their lifestyle while on campus.

“I think it’s a pretty unaccommodating and insensitive thing for any outside organization to dangle research money in front of us and say, ‘You want it, well here’s your laundry list of things to do to get it,’” Portillo said.

Printed on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 as: Campus smoking ban sparks debate