Alex Shockley remembers the last thing his uncle said to him before he died of lung cancer caused by smoking: “Make sure you and your friends and anyone you can tell never does this.”
A Penn State senior and student body vice president of the University Park Undergraduate Association, Shockley supports making all 24 Penn State campuses smoke- and tobacco-free, which could become a reality as soon as next semester.
A task force commissioned by Penn State President Eric Barron last year to explore the possibility of making Penn State smoke-free released seven recommendations last month. If implemented, Penn State will become the 11th out of 14 Big Ten universities to prohibit smoke or tobacco usage on campus.
Shockley served on the 17-member task force, which included professors, physicians and student government representatives. The group met regularly between January and July, consulting with more than 20 stakeholders, including the athletics facilities coordinator, the State College borough health officer and the International Student Council, before releasing its report.
“We are trying to better the health and well-being of all Penn State students, faculty, staff and visitors,” Shockley said.
But not everyone on campus agrees on the merits of making the switch.
Yahya Saad, a Penn State senior who quit smoking cigarettes and switched to electronic cigarettes, which would also be prohibited if the recommendations are implemented, said he’d “totally be against” such a policy.
“I would definitely be very uncomfortable going all the way downtown just to have a smoke,” Saad said. “I’d rather just have it right outside the building I’m in.”
Saad said he doubted preventing smoking on campus would benefit the health of those affected by secondhand smoke because “outside, the smoke dissipates pretty quickly.”
“People are claiming health issues from secondhand smoke from just outdoor smoke, which I think is a stretch,” Saad said. “Restricting that freedom, I don’t think is a path I would take.”
Saad is not alone when it comes to young people vaping. According to a 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 21.6 percent of young adults between 18 and 24 years old have tried e-cigarettes, or vape, the highest percentage out of all age groups.
Christopher Green, general manager of Illadelph by All in One Smoke shop, located on Hiester Street, said technology of some e-cigarettes, such as the Juul, which doesn’t produce much smoke, could make enforcement difficult.
“With the Juul, it’s way too hard for them to enforce,” Green said.
The smoke shop manager added that he doesn’t think a smoke-free campus policy would affect his business much.
“It may affect us a little bit, but in all honesty, I think it will just result in more people coming down here and vaping,” Green said.
Renee Borromeo, co-chair of the task force and senior instructor of physical therapy at Penn State Mont Alto, said she doesn’t see the recommendations as an impediment to people’s personal choice to smoke. After all, they can still do so, just not on campus.
UPUA spearheaded the initial idea following a 2015 universitywide survey that found 9 percent of Penn State students smoke, and 45 percent support “adopting a policy that enforces a smoke-free campus.” The survey had a 25 percent response rate.
The task force’s report recommends a “soft launch” of the recommendations starting January 2018 with enforcement beginning in the fall to “allow the policy to be fully explained to new employees, visitors and to students during New Student Orientation.”
The soft launch would involve installing signs about the upcoming changes, removing cigarette butt containers and waste receptacles and placing “We Are … A Smoke Free/Tobacco Free University” signs at all known smoking spots, among other efforts.
Borromeo said that since making the recommendations, the task force hasn’t been in communication with Barron or heard input from the board of trustees, whose support the report states is “critical to creating the context for this change.”
She said the task force’s mission to consider the data and make recommendations is complete. Now it’s up to the university to implement.
The next step? Barron’s approval.
During Barron’s tenure as president of Florida State University, the university implemented a smoke-free policy with a soft launch over the summer before being enforced in later semesters.
“When we met with him, he said that was very effective, so I’m sure if he chooses to do it, I would assume that’s what he would support,” Shockley said.
Maddie Biertempfel is a Penn State journalism student.
The 7 recommendations would:
- prohibit smoking and tobacco on all campuses and Penn State properties;
- create an Office for a Smoke Free/Tobacco Free Penn State responsible for implementation and assessment of outcomes;
- implement a soft launch in January 2018 and enforcement in fall 2018;
- support those who wish to quit with free cessation programs;
- enforce the policy through peer support and encouragement, and supervisory oversight only when necessary;
- roll out a communications plan that builds understanding for the policy and its potential health impacts;
- work collaboratively with each campus’s local community to advance the mission of improved health.