Tobacco ban controversial with students, neighbors

To smoke or not to smoke?

Tobacco-free or not tobacco-free?

The policy Belmont implemented in mid-August clearly states the campus is to be “tobacco-free,” but many students may be uncertain about the depth and reach of the new policy.

Tobacco-free means you can’t smoke a cigarette. And it means the use of cigars, pipe tobacco, hookahs, and chewable tobacco is also banned. Basically, if the product contains any form of tobacco, using it on campus is prohibited.

According to the new university policy, like many that have been implemented at several hundred universities across the nation, possessing tobacco products and having them on your person is not a violation. However, the moment someone lights up or takes a dip on university property, he or she should expect a fine.

“Everyone has the right to choose their own behavior,” according to the Tobacco Free Committee that helped implement the policy. “If you choose to smoke, that is your right. However, tobacco use is not permitted on university property.”

Even though the policies are becoming more common, some Belmont students have taken issue with the time between the announcement of the new policy and its implementation. Announcement of the policy came during the 2010-11 academic year and it went into effect just months later, unlike some other universities, which gave more than a year’s notice.

While the university’s haste may have heated up the emotions for some, others were simply annoyed that the ban was implemented at all. Still others say they’ll deal with it, which they can do by going just a few steps off campus.

University property doesn’t extend to the Metro sidewalks, curbs and streets that border Belmont, so the policy stops short of the city right-of-way.

As Christian Vieth enjoyed a cigarette on a 15th Avenue sidewalk – Metro property and, thus, a place where anyone can smoke – he said he was skeptical that the policy will change anyone’s smoking habits. As he was talking, three students, all smoking cigars, passed him on the sidewalk that is littered with cigarette butts.

“I feel like if people are going to smoke, they are going to smoke,” Veith said.

Vieth said he was unaware of the changes Health Services has made in conjunction with the change in policy, including cessation programs and pharmacy discounts on items such as nicotine gum.

“I have never even heard of them, to be honest,” he said.

Kendall John Durkee, a sophomore and regular smoker, was initially “appalled because of such a large student body that actually smokes on campus.”

“[I was] not as surprised,” he said.

Morghan Embry, a sophomore and non-smoker, said she wasn’t pleased with the placement of last year’s smoking areas.

“Since I am a music business student, I spend a lot of time at the Massey Center,” Embry said. “And with the smoking areas, one being allowed right over there by Massey, walking into the building. there was just this huge whiff of smoke every single day.”

She was extremely concerned.

“ I don’t like it, and I don’t want harm to my health,” she said.

Some students said the smoking areas could have been moved to more obscure places in order to divert the smoke away from traffic without banning tobacco from the campus entirely.

Sophomore Megan Patterson said this wouldn’t solve the problem.

“It would be just as much of an inconvenience for [smokers] to find those places than just to walk across the street,” she said. “I feel like it would be the same problem, people would still complain.”

The student complaints will not likely be heard since the administration has already established the tobacco-free policy and doesn’t plan to change it. Beyond the student concerns, however, there have also been some concerns raised by Bongo Java, the cornerstone coffee shop on Belmont Boulevard.

A shift manager at the cafe who would only identify herself as Sanfino said the new policy has brought many Belmont smokers to the coffee shop, especially when it is closed. Bongo is smoke-free inside, but the outdoor deck and patio allow smoking.

“In the morning, there is stuff all over the place, cigarette butts all over the place,” she said. “They bring outside food and drink from places like Circle K.”

Every morning around 6:30 a.m., she said, her opening staff is met with Red Bull cans, food wrappers and cigarette butts strewn all over the outside seating areas meant for customers, not loiterers.

She explained that groups of students will come after hours just to have a snack and a smoke. They then leave their trash at the restaurant.

Sanfino believes an option exists that can make everyone happy.

In order to preserve the unity between Belmont students and Bongo Java, the shift manager has made a few rules she says she and her staff have tried to “train” students to follow. They include using the ashtrays and dumping them if they are full, keeping loitering to a minimum and not bringing in outside food and drinks.

That may help the problems that Bongo is facing, because it’s likely that the visits from Belmont students will continue.

If students are found using tobacco on campus, the fines can mount up. After someone receives his or her first violation for the use of tobacco inside a building, the fine is $150. If the violation occurs outdoors, he or she can expect a $75 fine.

Much like a university parking ticket, students can appeal the fines if they believe they have a strong enough argument, according to the university website related to the new policy. More information on the appeal policy is currently unclear. In order to gain more information regarding the appeal process, students must receive a fine.

Although all of these fines and restrictions may seem harsh, the reasoning behind the tobacco ban is for the good of the students, according to the university website.

The ban was placed “in an endeavor to provide the healthiest possible environment.” As cigarette smoking takes roughly 443,000 lives annually, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), prohibiting tobacco products the reason for the ban is obvious to the administration that wants to support the health and well-being of students.

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