Questions raised regarding who enforces UAA’s smoke and tobacco-free policy

Establishing a smoke and tobacco-free campus has been an ambition of UAA’s leadership for many years, which encouraged the movement that impacted the current smoke and tobacco-free environment the university administers today. After students actively showed support, the vote was finally passed by the Board of Regents in December of 2014. The Anchorage campus has been smoke and tobacco-free since Nov. 19 of last year.

A smoke and tobacco-free UAA was created to encourage public health and to sustain a healthier and cleaner campus environment. The policy promotes a supportive environment in hopes of preventing the use of tobacco products and to help those who want to quit.

It has been a year since the university transitioned to a smoke and tobacco-free campus and has since raised question — who enforces these policies?

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Photo credit: Alexis Abbott

The array of signs that read “Welcome to a Smoke & Tobacco-Free UAA” and “Tobacco use and smoking are prohibited” make it clear that those on campus are asked to comply with the rules.

So why do we still see the use of tobacco on campus?

At this point, the smoke and tobacco-free implementation is an informative enforcement — to spread awareness and encourage locals to be tobacco-free. The policy relies on community support, while every member of UAA and the Anchorage community are expected to do their part and comply with the rules.

Gabriel Garcia, an associate professor of public health at UAA was a huge asset in the campus becoming smoke and tobacco-free.

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“The effort to become a smoke and tobacco-free campus took a long time-four years to be exact. It started with a group of five students passionate about making a difference in the world. As their mentor, I introduced the idea of making a difference close to home. After all, I asked them, ‘If we can’t change our own community, then how can we begin to change our world?’ The students and I felt a smoke-free campus was going to be a cause worth fighting,” Garcia said.

Garcia stated in the importance of the smoke and tobacco-free policy, students all must do their share in spreading enforcement.

“Our UA Board of Regents policy states that it is all our responsibility to enforce the policy. That means that when we see someone not complying with the smoke and tobacco-free policy, we should respectfully approach them and let them know of the policy. For those who are deliberately not complying with the policy repeatedly, we have the right and responsibility to report them to the appropriate administrator,” Garcia said. “There may still be people not complying with the policy. But, anecdotal evidence from residence hall administrators tells us that since the smoke and tobacco-free policy was instituted they do not see a group of students smoking in front of residence halls. We’ve also heard stories of people quitting smoking because of the policy.”

The importance of both spreading awareness and positively encouraging those around to respect the policy could significantly impact the smoke and tobacco-free environment.

“Our goal is to see more and more of us on campus complying with the policy in years to come. What is needed is not necessarily a stronger enforcement, what we need is for us to be more responsible in approaching those not complying with the policy. As we approach our one year anniversary of our smoke and tobacco-free policy, I feel hopeful that we will see improvement in our campus environment in terms of decreasing cigarette butt litter on campus, as well as decrease in tobacco use,” Garcia said.

All university facilities take part in the smoke and tobacco-free implementation, including all university buildings and on-campus living locations.

A tobacco-free university can be a problem for those that live on campus and wish to use tobacco products. UAA residence hall and apartment advisers are responsible for enforcing the policy to those that live on university property.

Alexie Weston, vice president of communications on the executive board of the Residence Hall Association recognizes that the smoke and tobacco-free policy at UAA is unclear.

“RA’s enforce via verbal warning, but even now, we are not even 100 percent sure how to treat the issue. We often leave it up to the authority figures, campus police, etc. And we can’t file an incident report necessarily, unless there is a repeated issue,” Weston said. “Even we are trying to figure it out, but as of now it is more of an information enforcement.”

Not only is a smoke and tobacco-free campus important for the consideration of others, it is beneficial for the health of the many people that spend time on the Anchorage campus.

“One of the powerful things about being a smoke and tobacco-free campus is that we are normalizing a tobacco-free life for our students, staff, faculty and community,” Corrie Whitmore, an assistant professor of health sciences said. “We are reducing the amount of second and third-hand smoke exposure for our campus community, which has a protective effect for health.”

It is important that those on campus comply with the rules and regulations set by university administration, which includes respecting UAA’s smoke and tobacco-free policy. For the improvements to be made to the campus, everybody’s respect is required.