No consensus on potential tobacco ban at Kent State University

By Thomas Gallick | Staff Writer Published:

A potential smoking ban is still up in the air following discussions this week at Kent State University.

Only a small group of faculty, students and staff attended a Tuesday morning discussion on KSU's policy, but every participant had a strong opinion on the topic.

Stephanie Clemens, a sophomore broadcast journalism major, said stricter enforcement of anti-smoking policies or an outright ban on tobacco use on campus would lead her to consider transferring to another university.

"I may be downgrading, but if you're going to take away my smoking rights, it's worth it," she said.

KSU planned the town hall meeting, along with two more on the Kent campus Thursday, to get feedback from the public on the university's tobacco policy after the Ohio Board of Regents, which oversees the public higher education system, recommended last summer for all public colleges and universities ban tobacco use on campus.

Others spoke out at Tuesday's event in favor of a smoking ban on campus. One thing all of the participants agreed on was that the current university policy, which bans smoking inside and within 20 feet of doors, windows and vents on buildings, is not working.

Marianne Warzinski, director of College of Communication and Information Commons program in Olson Hall, said many students ignore the prohibition against smoking near campus buildings.

"I feel like the current policy isn't working quite well," she said. "The 20 feet outside of the building (restriction) doesn't work. Every day that I go to work ... there's smoke that gathers in my office from students who light their cigarettes as they're going outside of their residence hall. They're long gone, (but) it stays in my office."

Jacqueline Parsons, executive director of the Kent Student Center and Dining Services, said explaining the policy can be hard.

"We need more people who are aware of the current policy, who help people understand what the current policy is," Parsons said. "Having been an enforcer in a space that has a lot of visitors, I think it's difficult to repeat the policy to visitors."

Clemens said the rights of students and staff who did not want to be exposed to secondhand smoke were important, but she felt a tobacco ban on campus would infringe on her own rights.

"If I want to come outside the dorm and have a cigarette because I've had a bad day, I'm going to do it," Clemens said. "I'm paying six grand to live in this dorm, I should be able to smoke outside of it."

Warzinski said creating recognizable smoking zones for smokers might help, while a KSU maintenance worker suggested simple structures with roofs for smoking in inclement weather could benefit smokers and non-smokers on campus.

Stephanie Clemens' cousin, sophomore education major Lennon Clemens, said she was in favor of the idea of creating outdoor "pavilions" for smokers.

Both Clemens cousins agreed that inconsiderate smokers on campus, who litter and don't care where their secondhand smoke drifts, were damaging the reputations of responsible tobacco users.

KSU, which also surveyed thousands of students and employees about potential changes to its tobacco policy, has no set deadline to make a decision on a new tobacco policy. Data from the survey and townhall meetings, which wrap up with a meeting on the KSU Tuscarawas campus in New Philadelphia on March 14, will be presented to KSU President Lester Lefton, who will decide whether or not to move forward with a ban.

Any ban or policy change would need the approval of the university's Board of Trustees.

Stephanie Clemens, who has seen examples the damaging effects tobacco can have on users in her own family, said she hopes to give up the habit one day -- but on her own schedule, not KSU's.

"One day, when I have kids, I would like for them to not have to beg me to stop," she said.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or tgallick@recordpub.com

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