The University of New Mexico is now fast-tracking its way to becoming a completely smoke- and tobacco-free environment.
The new policy, No. 2250 under the Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual: Transition to a Smoke-and Tobacco-Free Campus, states “UNM will, with few exceptions, become a smoke- and tobacco-free environment by Fall Semester 2017. At that time, the only designated smoking areas on campus will be located near the residence halls on the Albuquerque Campus and provided in the interests of safety for the use of residential students on Main Campus and South Campus and at the UNM Hospital.”
The majority of other designated smoking areas were phased out for the 2017 Fall Semester.
Campus Office of Substance Abuse Prevention faculty member John Steiner said a number of years ago, his department had revised the tobacco policy at UNM to try to make it a tobacco-free campus but did not have the resources to put any kind of effort into educating and making students aware of the policy.
Steiner said former UNM President Bob Frank suggested the idea again roughly two years ago when he approached Steiner, saying, “‘You know we need to get serious about this; let’s make UNM tobacco free.”
A UNM student smokes while sitting on the ledge of a main campus building Wednesday, August 23rd 2017. The instituted "tobacco-free campus" campaign has led to a phasing out of designated smoking areas for students, residents and faculty across campus.
Frank did not discuss vaping specifically to be included in the revised policy. Still, banning vaping had become the new standard for tobacco-free campuses and tobacco-free places, Steiner said.
After revisions, Steiner said numerous forums were held on campus to gauge opinions on the matter.
“It was not just something that was done without consultation with the campus community,” he said.
From these forums, roughly 99 percent of students were “totally in favor” of the policy, and those conducting the forum received only a few negative comments, he said.
The policy was never implemented without thinking there wouldn’t be some negative comments, Steiner said, but there are reasons for the vaping ban as well.
“There is so little research that’s really been conclusive about vaping and its effects on health,” he said. “We don’t feel comfortable saying, ‘Oh vaping is OK.’ It’s not. We’ve actually heard that there (are) some possible problems with it healthwise.”
While efforts to make UNM a smoke- and tobacco-free environment failed in the past due to lack of funding, this time around, the New Mexico Department of Health provided funding. The DOH paid for signs around campus, stickers on doors and the PSA new students see at orientation, Steiner said.
“We’ve got signage and banners all around campus,” he said. “We’ve been talking to students one-on-one all summer long at the Discover UNM events they have for orientation. We’ve talked to our RAs and New Student Orientation leaders. We’ve talked to really every group we can think of. And what we’re finding out is there’s a very high awareness right now of the policy, and at least (at) first glance after a couple of days, it seems like compliance is pretty good.”
There are several ways in which the policy will be enforced. UNM security will “gently remind” patrons they encounter smoking on campus when they patrol, Steiner said.
There will be a small group of Student Health Ambassadors, who are trained undergraduate students interested in wellness and health, discussing the policy around campus. If they see someone smoking, they will kindly ask them not to smoke and have information about the policy and information on how to quit, Steiner said.
“We feel it’s our responsibility as a university to provide a means for people to quit,” he said.
The last resort to enforce the policy if someone continues to smoke in a place where everybody is bothered by it will be to contact law enforcement.
Police have the ability — under the law, not UNM policy — to write a citation to that person, Steiner said.
“None of us want to see people getting fined, what we want is for people to understand the policy and comply out of respect for their fellow UNM community members,” he said.
Some students are doubtful the policy will invoke change.
Mark Van Sickle, a political science major, said he doesn’t think it’s going to deter people.
Cyanne Garcia, a music education major, agreed, saying she does not think it will work very well.
“I think people are still going to do that,” Garcia said. “Especially with vapes, everyone has a vape now.”
Another UNM student Mariesa Lucero, a chemical engineering major, said she feels the campus has always had tobacco-free zones, and there have always been places where people can smoke.
“I feel that banning that is kind of taking away, I guess, our right in a way, because people have addictions that they can’t control,” Lucero said. “They should have the free ability to smoke on campus in designated areas.”
This sentiment is shared by Julian Greenspan, a business and pre-med major, who said, “I didn’t want to come to a Catholic School, but it’s getting there — dry, tobacco-free and a lot of other things.”
Nichole Harwood is a reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Nolidoli1.