Informational meeting addresses smoke-free university plans

Faculty, staff and students gathered last Thursday for an informational meeting about the university plan for a smoke-free campus.

Session participants addressed questions about non-smoking enforcement, clarifying campus boundaries so smokers will know where they are permitted to smoke, what smoking cessation support is available, how to get involved with focus groups and whether smoking would be allowed in private vehicles.

Those leading the session said they are working on these issues and welcome input from faculty, staff and students.

President Mary Sue Coleman announced in April the plan for U-M to be an entirely smoke-free university July 1, 2011. On that date, university grounds and buildings on all three campuses will be designated as non-smoking areas. University buildings already are smoke free.

Next meeting
5-6:30 p.m. Thursday in Stamps Auditorium on North Campus.

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When announcing the Smoke-Free University Initiative, Coleman said the change would take place gradually, allowing plenty of time for input from smokers and non-smokers. The next informational meeting is 5-6:30 p.m. Thursday in Stamps Auditorium on North Campus.

Campus officials do not plan to take a punitive approach to enforcing the ban, said Kenneth Warner, dean of the School of Public Health and co-chair of the Smoke Free University Steering Committee. Instead, the university will offer outreach and support to those who are observed smoking on campus grounds.

"We want to establish an environment where health is the norm," he said.

During the session, Warner shared goals for the implementation, including the first steps that have been taken, which include formation of subcommittees to address communications, student life, human resources, grounds and facilities, and the impact on U-M visitors.

A number of audience members asked what led to the decision to go smoke free, and why public input was being sought after the fact.

Leaders explained that the move to a smoke-free campus is in line with the president's MHealthy initiative, in which the university seeks to create a culture of health by offering programs that address the issues that most affect employees: smoking, obesity, and mental and emotional health. The university already has developed programs that promote healthy eating and exercise, and encourage mental and emotional well-being.

"To be authentic, you pose a question to the university community only when you feel you don't have an answer and you need that broad input. But in this case, university leaders felt the case was so compelling to move forward with a smoke-free environment that the decision became not whether to do it, but how — which is why that is the question they put to the faculty, staff and students," said Kallie Bila Michels, associate vice president for communications.

Besides Warner and Bila Michaels, other subcommittee leaders addressing questions included:

• Laurita Thomas, associate vice president and chief human resource officer.

• Gloria Hage, associate vice president and deputy general counsel of the university.

• Bill Bess, special adviser to the associate vice president of Facilities and Operations.

• Simone Himbeault Taylor, associate vice president for student affairs.

When the smoke-free campus goes into effect, university officials plan to post no-smoking signs, and there will be no "butt-huts" constructed for smokers, Warner said.

Meeting participants suggested posting information on how people could get involved with focus groups and the subcommittees and offering greater access to information through the smoke-free campus Web site. Others raised concerns that the policy served as an infringement of personal liberties.

"This is not an attempt to ostracize or make smokers feel bad about themselves," Himbeault Taylor said. "We want to make folks aware of options and to make thoughtful decisions."

The leaders mentioned that U-M would offer free behavioral counseling and increased access to anti-smoking products.

"We want to improve the culture of health," Thomas said.

Some questioned the timing of the university's decision to go smoke free. But Bila Michels and Warner both explained that historically the university was moving toward a smoke-free campus, beginning with changes made in the 1980s.

"Smokers figured out ways to adapt to the previous stages, including smoke-free buildings and smoke-free residence halls," Warner said.

Before the meeting, Andrew Covert, an 18-year-old freshman, passed out Parliament cigarettes to passersby outside Palmer Commons while sitting by a sign that read, "Protest the smoking ban."

"I feel the ban is unjust," he said. "It's infringing upon our rights as smokers."

Once the campus goes smoke free in 2011, however, Covert said he plans to follow the rules. "I will respect the ban," he said.