Winthrop University mulls smoking ban

adouglas@heraldonline.comNovember 17, 2012 

  • More information Smoke-free colleges in S.C.: Newberry College Allen University Claflin University Clinton Junior College Tobacco-free colleges: Francis Marion University Charleston Southern University Converse College Aiken Technical College Lander University Medical University of South Carolina University of South Carolina - Upstate Piedmont Technical College System (7 campuses) York Technical College

— As Winthrop University considers banning smoking on campus, some student smokers say banning tobacco would be unfair, but fining people who break current smoking rules would be a good compromise.

The college committee studying the issue, and students who support a smoking ban, cite tobacco’s effects on health and the tendency of student smokers to stray from designated areas, as reasons Winthrop needs to eliminate smoking on campus.

Freshman Kayla Blanc, a smoker, acknowledges some Winthrop smokers lit up in places not designated on campus as smoking areas. There are 15 designated smoking areas on campus. Each has a bench and container for disposing of butts and ashes.

People who drop their cigarette butts on the ground, or smoke in places they aren’t supposed to, she said, are giving the university reasons to ban smoking entirely.

“If we just follow the rules and don’t make this disgusting mess,” Blanc said. “Then, there shouldn’t be a ban.

“I think the people who (smoke) on Scholar’s Walk do need a wakeup call. I think they should hand out tickets,” Blanc said.

Scholar’s Walk is a heavily-used footpath that cuts through the main part of campus and is not designated as a smoking area,

Campus police officers do not write tickets for students caught smoking outside designated areas, said Winthrop Police Chief Frank Zebedis.

South Carolina does not have a statute banning smoking outdoors so Winthrop officers, he said, cannot issue citations to student who break Winthrop’s smoking rules.

If the college enacts a campus-wide ban, Zebedis said, enforcement would need to be determined. He said he has not been asked to weigh in on that issue yet.

“I don’t know how the enforcement would take place if they get to that point,” he said. “I’m sure there’s going to have to be some kind of penalty.

“If (students) have to smoke...they’re going to find someway to do it.”

Winthrop’s smoking policy – which bans smoking indoors or anywhere outside except at designated places – says rule violators are to referred to the college’s judicial system handled by the Dean of Students.

Enforcing the policy, Zebedis said, essentially involves asking a student to stay in designated areas or put out their cigarette.

Some student smokers told Winthrop’s student government in October that people who violate the university’s current smoking policy are avoiding designated areas because some are unsafe.

His department understands the perception that students have of some areas that are dark, or away from the main arteries of campus, Zebedis said.

“But I don’t perceive any of our smoking areas as dangerous,” he said.

Some smokers say a campus ban would make them feel even more unsafe because they’d have to leave campus to smoke.

Crossing Cherry Road to leave campus and smoke a cigarette could be a safety problem, some students said during a “Share the Air” forum in October, held by Winthrop’s student government.

Students should have the right to smoke, said freshman Alex Mason, but smokers are frequently violating the compromise of smoking benches.

Mason said he is allergic to smoke and catching a whiff of a cigarette affects his ability to rehearse and perform as a vocal performance major at Winthrop.

Banning all tobacco use, he said, “might not be the best option” if it forces students to cross Cherry Road at night.

The city of Rock Hill banned people from smoking inside buildings open to the public, and within 10 feet of entry to any building that does not allow smoking inside, in 2009.

Winthrop’s administration has been studying a potential smoking ban for a few years, but has not set a timeline for enacting a smoking ban, said university spokeswoman Rebecca Masters.

“The normal timeframe for the executive officers – the president and vice presidents – to consider such reports and recommendations for any policy modifications would be over a summer,” she said.

The university would consider at that point, she said, matters of wellness, privacy, individual rights, and potential enforcement costs and processes, as well as study results and recommendations from campus groups.

The college is working with the University of South Carolina’s Office of Public Health Practice to complete a survey of smoking habits on campus, said Rosie Hopkins-Campbell, Winthrop’s wellness coordinator.

Survey results, she said, will help Winthrop decide whether to enact a smoking or tobacco ban.

About 825 universities nationwide have campus-wide smoking bans, according to data from the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. Of those schools, 608 colleges ban all types of tobacco.

Schools that have banned smoking report “overall positive” results, Hopkins-Campbell said, and no decline in enrollment.

If they ban smoking, Winthrop would join 13 other schools to date in South Carolina to ban either all use of tobacco or smoking.

York Technical College, along with eight other colleges in the state has a no-tobacco policy, which includes cigarettes, snuff and chewing tobacco. Clinton Junior College, and three other schools in the state, do not allow smoking on campus.

Clemson University announced in October that its campus will be smoke-free within two years. Coastal Carolina University indicated earlier this year it is exploring the possibility of going smoke-free.

Many students, both against and in support of banning smoking at Winthrop, said at the October forum that they doubted a rule change would actually stop people from smoking on campus. Other students said if the purpose of the smoking ban is to promote healthy living, then legal alcohol use, fatty foods and exercise should be regulated at Winthrop.

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068