Update: Tobacco-Free Campus Favored in UNK Survey

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Kearney, NE Most of the students who responded to an email survey favored a smoke-free campus at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

A university news release says nearly 1,400 favored the idea, versus 710 who opposed it. Nearly 2,100 of the nearly 7,100 students returned the surveys. The survey was conducted Wednesday and Thursday.

The results will be presented to the Chancellor's Cabinet.

The tobacco ban at UNK would have the college join 1,100 other tobacco free colleges across the country.

"Large institutions such as Ohio St. have actually already gone 100% tobacco free as well as in Nebraska. Creighton University has gone tobacco free. UNMC has been tobacco free since 2009, there's been community colleges. We really want to set a standard and show we really would like a healthier and more safe campus for everyone," said Samantha Mitchell, the President of Peer Health Education, the group hosting the survey.

And UNK would be the 1st 4 year, public school to do so in the state.

"UNK is great about leading the way in a lot of things and so I think this would just be one other area that we could excel in that," said Monica Mueller, the Assistant Director of the Officer of Multicultural Affairs.

Mueller deals with a lot of students from other cultures where smoking may be more approved.

She said, "Students, whether they're hear domestically or internationally are here to experience the culture of campus. Right now the culture of campus is that smoking is okay. If it ever becomes to the fact where it's not, students will acclimate to that and I think they'll accept it."

Part of the proposal will be to ban tobacco completely including chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes.

"There's not enough research to back whether or not they are a healthy alternative to tobacco," said Mitchell. "As well as you don't know exactly what could be in the E-cigarette whether it be tobacco, whether it be no tobacco, whether it be marijuana, anything like that."

According to students and faculty, not only could a school wide ban on tobacco help keep the campus clean and protect non smokers from 2nd hand tobacco, it can also help those who choose to smoke.

"Some of them, honestly, they know it's wrong. And some incentive, what I'm getting back from them, is a good thing. Some incentive to quit smoking, some good reason to quit," said the Student Body President Moses Moxey. "They know it's bad for them, they've seen the tobacco commercials and they don't want to end up like that."

Moses Moxey has heard from smokers who are not happy about this possibility but said those people are ruining it for themselves.

He said, "People are unclear about the rules. They are very unclear about what the policy states. It's always arguing, arguing, arguing. So hey! Let's make it simple. We don't need it!"

The proposal will not be given to the Chancellor's Cabinet for a few months. With the Chancellor not being able to see anything about the proposal, he declined to comment.

Press Release from UNK:
A student group, UNK Peer Health Education, is rallying for support behind its proposal to make University of Nebraska at Kearney a tobacco-free campus.

On Feb. 26-27, UNK students will be asked in an email if they support Peer Health Education’s tobacco-free initiative. Pending the outcome, a proposal may be presented to the Chancellor's Cabinet for consideration.

“This movement is about the health and wellbeing of the entire UNK community,” said Samantha Mitchell, president of Peer Health. “Most students prefer a tobacco-free campus, and it is well understood that tobacco is harmful not only to the user but to those around them. Going 100 percent tobacco-free promotes the health of all no matter where they are at on campus.”

The Peer Health team began exploring the issue in 2012 after learning student opinions from a national health survey at UNK indicated support for a tobacco-free campus. With support from the Buffalo County Tobacco Free Coalition and UNK’s Health Education Office, the Peer Health student team initiated the campaign.

UNK’s Clean Air Policy currently prohibits tobacco use in UNK facilities or vehicles, and within 10 feet of entrances or work sites on the grounds (in the open air). Similar policies are employed at UNO and UNL, except that UNL has at least two buildings with larger “halos” or smoke-free zones around the entrances. University of Nebraska Medical Center has been tobacco-free since 2009.

The UNK Peer Health students explored college and university policies all over the country and discovered this is a popular movement on college campuses. Of UNK’s 10 Board of Regents-designated peer institutions, five are already smoke- or tobacco-free, and two have initiatives in place. Mitchell said more than 1,100 colleges have already addressed student concerns by putting tobacco- or smoke-free policies in place.

Tobacco-free means no use of tobacco products at all, including chew and snuff in addition to smoked materials.

Mitchell and vice president Kaitlyn Smejdir said the project has been educational and required hard work. They and student body president Moses Moxey appear in a recent Peer Health YouTube video. They also have developed posters, fact sheets and other information materials.

“The reaction to our efforts has been very surprising,” said Smejdir. “What we knew for sure was that students would prefer such a policy, but we did not know what reaction we would get from faculty and staff. We expected them to push back, but it was the exact opposite.

“When discussing the matter with student groups and others from the UNK community, while numerous questions are brought up, nearly everyone has stated that they are in support of the movement,” Smejdir added. “It has been encouraging to receive emails and phone calls from different members of the UNK community thanking us for empowering them to speak up about their concerns with tobacco use on campus.”

UNK’s Staff Senate approved a resolution on Feb. 18 supporting a tobacco-free campus. A tobacco-free policy, if approved, would apply to all on UNK’s campus: faculty, staff and visitors in addition to students.

The Peer Health group knows there is opposition, most likely for those who promote the rights of individuals to make their own decisions about their health, especially to smoke or use tobacco outdoors where it’s not likely to bother others.

Still, Mitchell says the group is doing the right thing.

"We know many students want to live, learn, and play in a healthier environment,” Mitchell said. “Since people understand that tobacco products are unhealthy, an argument against such a movement is difficult to make.

"Our job is to engage, educate, and empower our peers to live healthier lives while in college and beyond. A tobacco-free UNK emphasizes this mission.”