The number of tobacco free campuses in the United States has been growing rapidly. Hundreds of colleges ban the use of tobacco on campus, including the University of Texas at El Paso and The University of New Mexico.
New Mexico State University has a smoking policy stating that you may not smoke within 25 feet from a building or within 50 feet of any area where a significant fire hazard may exist. However, for NMSU student Rachael Valentine, 25 feet is not enough because she is allergic to tobacco.
“You can be 25 feet away from a building, or be in the middle of the ‘I-mall’ and I will still be able to have an allergic reaction, because if I come in contact with tobacco, if it’s blown at me and gets in my lungs, it will swell up,” says Valentine.
There is a student interest group at NMSU fighting for a tobacco free campus. Colleges Against Cancer initiated last year, and making NMSU tobacco free is on their to-do list. Annette Enriquez, Advocacy Director for Colleges Against Cancer, says that NMSU would benefit from a policy banning tobacco on campus.
“Secondhand smoke exposure is estimated to kill about 3,000 people annually, so overall health of the students would improve, faculty and staff included. It also helps with maintenance. Smoke-free campuses had about 77 percent fewer cigarette butts on campus,” says Enriquez.
Enriquez also says that having a tobacco free campus would improve air quality and work ethic of people on campus.
In 2013, there was an initiative by the NMSU Department of Social Health Sciences called, “Striving to be Tobacco Free”, but it ended in 2014 without success.
As part of the initiative, a survey was sent out asking students, staff, and faculty whether or not they thought colleges and universities should prohibit all tobacco use on campus. Out of all the people surveyed, 48 percent of students agreed, 45 percent disagreed, and 7 percent said they don’t know.
Dustin Chavez, President of Associated Students of NMSU says the campus is not tobacco free because enforcing it would be an issue.
“If we have a policy that’s not enforced, how are we going to add on to the policy, with stricter and more stringent guidelines, when we can’t even enforce the policies that we have in place right now?” says Chavez.
KRWG went out and talked to some students about how they would feel if NMSU banned the use of tobacco on campus.
Most of the students interviewed say they are bothered when they pass by someone who is smoking outside, so they think it would be a good idea:
“There’s signs here that say ‘no smoking within 25 feet’, they end up smoking like 10 feet away from the building. It’s not right to our students, especially to those who choose to be tobacco-free. I know that I’m bothered by it and I don’t want to deal with any of that.” – Joseph Cairns, Student
“I feel like it might be better for the students and people around it, because there won’t be second hand smoke so you won’t get preventable cancers and stuff like that, so I think it’d be better for health definitely.” –Chad McNamara, Student
Other students did say banning the use of tobacco on campus would be an infringement on people’s rights:
“If I don’t want to do it, or I don’t want to be in that place, I will not go to that area. But if you want to enjoy it you should have a space to do that.” –Ceciclia Palacio-Ribón, Student
Currently, there are no signs of NMSU becoming a tobacco-free campus, but Valentine says she will keep her hopes up that some day she will be able to feel safe on campus.
“My life is literally in danger when I go on campus because of people smoking. I don’t want to have to carry an EpiPen around in my backpack all day. I want to be able to come here and be safe,” says Valentine.
For more information on the current NMSU smoking policy: http://studenthandbook.nmsu.edu/addit...
Ximena Tapia is a KRWG intern with the Las Cruces Public Schools EXCEL Program.