The Breathe Easy UT project has been in the works for six years, headed by Gina Firth, Associate Dean of Wellness at UT, along with Dr. Rebecca Olsen, Dr. Mary Martinasek, and several public health students, working towards the objective of eliminating smoking on campus.
With the creation of designated smoking areas on campus in 2013, they were making progress towards their goal.
“We wanted to decrease secondhand smoke exposure to UT students and faculty,” Firth said.
Though putting students in danger was not the intention of the policymakers, as of August 1, 2016, students and faculty at UT are forced to leave the safety of campus in order to smoke.
The no-smoking policy is designed to promote a healthy and safe working, learning, and living environment, according to the Health and Wellness page located on the UT website.
“More people are choosing to quit because of it,” Firth said about the new policy. This, according to her, was part of the plan.
Firth went on to say that, while certain areas such as the West Kennedy sidewalk along the campus limits are technically public property, students should be respectful of others who use those areas to walk to and from class.
Students who have chosen not to quit are now smoking just at the borders of campus.
One popular spot to smoke now is the Amscot parking lot behind the Health and Wellness center, which Firth sees as “karma” since it is also right outside her office.
Another is next to the bus stop on West Kennedy across from the Falk Theater.
“We are constantly getting emails from the school saying someone got assaulted or robbed nearby, but off-campus,” said Andrew McCarthy, a junior environmental science major living on campus. “It seems strange that when I want to smoke, the school wants me to go off-campus.”
The fact is that people do not feel safe leaving campus to smoke. Venturing out too far has resulted in dire consequences for students in the past, such as harassments, accosts, assaults, and muggings.
Campus Safety regularly sends out emails throughout the year warning students of these confrontations outside of campus, advising people to travel in groups and to avoid going out at night.
One email sent out October 29 reported that at 12:40 in the afternoon, a UT student was robbed by two men armed with a stun gun and a hammer on Edison Street by the Thompson building.
“The student surrendered his laptop and ran away, and he is physically unharmed,” the email stated.
Now, with the new no-smoking policy in effect, more students are forced to go off campus during all times of day, risking their safety.
“I do believe safety is an issue,” Firth said. “People need to use common sense.”
Firth says she is aware that nicotine is a very difficult substance to quit. In fact, according to addictioncenter.com, nicotine addiction is the most common addiction in America. More than two-thirds of Americans who tried cigarettes or chewing tobacco reported being dependent at some point during their lifetime.
Nicotine, according to the American Cancer Society, is as addicting as cocaine and heroin. When a person smokes, they become physically, mentally, and emotionally dependent on nicotine, which means they need to deal with physical, mental, and emotional withdrawal when they quit, making quitting cold turkey extremely difficult.
Firth recommends that students who need to smoke should find a “smoking buddy” with whom they can go off campus with for an evening cigarette.
But is there more that can be done?
When asked if Campus Safety should extend their patrols to areas beyond the borders of campus property for smokers, McCarthy did not believe that was the answer.
“I don’t know how they could,” McCarthy said. “I don’t really think it’s their job either. What happens off-campus shouldn’t be any of their business.”
McCarthy believes the school should have kept the designated smoking areas instead of changing the policy.
Students trying to quit will probably still be smoking, albeit at a lesser rate, and they will still need to leave campus to do so.
They will still need to leave campus for that last cigarette ever, and that could very well be the time someone comes along looking to do them harm.