I don’t smoke. Why would I? My grandmother died from lung cancer while living in Palmer with my parents and I. She exposed me to direct secondhand smoke almost daily. My aunt is nearly house-ridden thanks to the harm cigarettes have done to her body over the years, and I live with two UAA students who are trying to quit the habit.
Smoking kills, and if it doesn’t kill you it will certainly decrease your quality of life. It’s with these things in mind that a group of students, led by Assistant Professor of Public Health Gabriel Garcia, have set out to rid UAA and all of its satellite campuses of smoking and/or tobacco altogether. This group approached USUAA student government in the spring semester while I was vice president to deliver the great news that they were planning on implementing this change.
My first question was about the students that lived on campus. I inquired and was met with an answer that disturbed me. According to this policy, any student staff or faculty member that smokes would have to leave campus entirely to smoke a cigarette, or in the case of a “tobacco-free campus” to chew or possibly even use electronic cigarettes.
According to the group itself, between 15 and 20 percent — their numbers seem to change depending on who’s answering the question — of the more than 17,000 students at UAA admit to smoking regularly. Let’s split the difference and call it 17.5 percent. This means our campus is home to approximately 3,000 admitted smokers, not including faculty and staff.
The Smoke-Free Task Force expects these students, as well as all employees, to leave campus entirely every time they want to smoke.
In the words of task force member Yesenia Camarena, “Basically there’s a lot of students that say it would be hard for them to cope with the smoke-free policy, because they don’t want to go somewhere else to smoke.”
Of course they don’t want to leave campus to smoke. Campus is big. Alaska is cold. The math isn’t hard.
So how about some compromise? A few designated smoking areas perhaps, like what Ted Stevens International has: a simple yellow box painted on the ground with a sign that is very easy to avoid if you want to escape the terror of secondhand smoke.
According to a Facebook post by Smoke-Free UAA, ”UAA already has designated smoking areas.”
Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.
There are only areas at UAA where you can’t smoke, and so far the task force is not willing to do any negotiation on actual designated areas. So we have a group of students and faculty that are trying to enact a new rule with no room for compromise.
On top of all this, they’re not even willing to see what they’ll be putting students through firsthand.
I posed this question on their Facebook page on Nov. 5: “I challenge you and everyone in your group to pretend to be pack-a-day smokers all next semester and leave campus six or seven times a day, every day and stay off campus for five minutes, then come back.”
Now I understand this would not represent every smoking student. Some would need to leave more, some less, but you get the idea.
“Hi, Andrew. We don’t have to pretend to be smokers. Some of our family and friends already are smokers. They are trying desperately to quit. Some of us have seen our loved ones pass away from lung cancer.”
Hey! Me too! We have something in common! Although that seems like a bit of a question dodge.
So I kept asking. Again. And again. Each time with no response, even though pretty much every other question of mine up until this point was answered.
So, my challenge stands.
Will you, the members of the UAA Smoke-Free Task Force, walk a mile (in quite an amusingly literal sense) in the shoes of those you wish to affect with your vendetta against cigarettes and secondhand smoke?
I won’t hold my breath.