Chemeketa Community College recently approved a policy much harsher than the 30-feet away from the door rule: smokers won’t be allowed to light up anywhere in the entire campus come January 1st.
“People with very sensitive systems complain about even being close to a person who smells like smoke,” said Greg Harris, Chemeketa’s public information officer, admitting this was taken into account when drafting the policy.
“The ban was approved based on a survey that indicated that most students and staff support a smoke-free campus,” said Emily DuPlessis, public affairs manager at Chemeketa.
48.1 percent of the staff who were sent the 2009 questionnaire responded, while 12.6 percent of students provided their feedback.
The survey didn’t specify there would not be a single smoking area left in the entire campus, where 37 percent of students call themselves smokers, according to DuPlessis.
Chemeketa also used their Facebook page, the student managed newspaper, and a feedback forum using their website to manage the reaction to the new policy.
When asked if she supported a smoking ban at Chemeketa, Jen Kyser, a staff member, said, “It’s great! I smoke but I don’t like the smell.”
When she learned that the ban included the parking lot, she said, “I don’t see why people can’t smoke in the parking lots. People will be lined up on the street, and I think it will cause tardiness because they’ll have to go so far to smoke.”
Andrew Beck, a student, said, “It’s my car, my little bubble! It’s gonna be hard for them to get me to stop smoking in my car.”
The new policy indicates that those who ignore an unspecified number of warnings may be fined up to 50 dollars, but Harris said, “We don’t intend to use fines. We’ll most likely ask smokers to leave campus, do what they’re gonna do, and come back.”
DuPlessis also said the purpose of the ban is not punitive, but educational. She said they plan to provide smokers with resources to quit, and hand out gum.
In the survey, a minority of tobacco users said they would like to quit. Most of them agreed to the statement, “even small amounts of secondhand smoke is a serious health risk.”
That statement is not without criticism. Maria Gonzalez, a visitor at Chemeketa, said that her family smoked for generations without repercussions.
“I think smoke is used as a scapegoat to explain unknown diseases. They realized even if they don’t smoke they get sick, so they blamed it on the person smoking on the corner,” she said.
Like Gonzalez, some question the effects of second hand smoke on the general populace. U.S. smoking rates have been on the decline for decades, yet emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and throat and oral cancers continue to rise.
“Humans are exposed to all kinds of environmental toxins, not just from smoking. All the time our bodies are fighting these chemicals to not develop cancer,” said Caroline King, M.D. at Willamette Health Partners Family Medicine.
The environment contains thousands of the same chemicals as tobacco smoke, a few of which have been deemed carcinogenic after subjecting animals to huge amounts of isolated versions.
“To me, it wouldn’t matter what the source was,” said Salem Allergy specialist Charles Wagner, M.D., adding there is no such a thing as an allergy specific to tobacco smoke.
“Not in the immunologic sense,” he said. “People who already have bad allergies may have a stronger reaction to smoke, or diesel, ozone, and other particulates in the air, but this is because they’re already irritated.”
Chemeketa will begin promoting the new policy by increasing no smoking signs around campus. Chemeketa executives also plan on deploying college champions of this initiative to speak to campus organizations.
Chemeketa’s board of education voted to the pass the policy 5-2. Ron Pittman, vice chair of the board said, “Chemeketa Community College has a responsibility to students, employees and visitors to provide a safe and healthy environment.”