UW-Whitewater moves slowly to snuff smoking

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Kevin Hoffman
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
— UW-Whitewater senior Sarah Coons hasn't given up on the school becoming a tobacco-free campus.

Despite a negative vote earlier this month by Whitewater Student Government, Coons said she'd attempt to organize a research committee by year's end to draft a policy detailing how UW-Whitewater could transition to a tobacco-free institution.

Coons, student representative for the North Central College Health Association, earlier this month presented a survey to Whitewater Student Government showing that nearly three-quarters of students supported a smoke-free policy. One week later, however, student government voted 16-4 against endorsing the idea, saying its discussions with students revealed the need for a detailed plan.

"I'm going to talk with the vice chancellor and see what he has to say," Coons said. "Just to get the committee up and going this semester … my plan is just to make sure everything is going OK and (everyone) is on the same page."

Coons was disappointed in student government's vote, saying she wished they had taken more time to lobby for student feedback.

Andrew Whaley, student government president, said there wasn't enough information to win approval. A committee's recommendations with specific proposals would "hold more ground" with student senators, he said.

Some students for years have been petitioning for a smoke-free environment. A couple years ago, UW-Whitewater implemented a policy requiring smokers to stay at least 25 feet from all buildings.

Coons believes it has been an unsuccessful deterrent.

"It's not effective, and that's why we need a tobacco-free campus," she said. "There's no real enforcement, and other campuses have said that to me, too."

Only one school in the university system has completely banned tobacco on campus, and UW-Stout officials say the model is working.

About two-thirds of the UW-Stout student body voted in favor of a ban last year, and the school later approved a policy against all tobacco products. It went into effect Sept. 1.

Doug Mell, communications director and chair of the Tobacco-Free Policy Implementation Committee, said the UW-Stout campus is blanketed with signs. No fines are given out, but the intent was keep students from using tobacco out in the open, Mell said.

"By and large, the policy is accomplishing the majority of what it set out to do, and that's get second-hand smoke away from the population," Mell said.

Nearly 400 college campuses across the nation have embraced similar policies. Mell predicts all Wisconsin colleges—public and private—will do the same within five to 10 years.

A policy committee is where UW-Whitewater should start, Mell said. Aside from the obvious questions, colleges have to consider what to do with ash urns and if students would be permitted to smoke on campus while in their cars.

UW-Stout removed all ash receptacles, and students, regardless of whether they're in their vehicles, still are subject to the policy.

"I'll be frank, it's been pretty darn quiet," Mell said of student reaction. "I guess I expected more backlash, but compliance has been good, and it's being accepted here."

If Whitewater Student Government ever approved a referendum and students passed the policy, the decision to adopt it would need Chancellor Richard Telfer's support.

Last updated: 3:07 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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