Students voted last week to move forward with a proposal that would make the University of Alaska Anchorage a smoke- and tobacco-free campus. The referendum passed the preliminary election results by earning 719 votes in support of the initiative, and 628 votes against the initiative. This means, 51.6 percent of students who voted supported a smoke-free campus, while 45 percent of students do not support the smoke-free initiative.
The smoke-free initiative started two years ago as a student grassroots movement. Members of the task force say there is no safe amount of exposure to secondhand smoke, and students, staff and faculty have the right to breathe fresh air on campus.
The task force has spoken at the Board of Regents meeting last year, hosted two debates on campus, set up informational booths and ran a marketing campaign with controversial slogans such as, “There are better things to put in your mouth.”
Not all students though have agreed with an outright ban on smoking. After the soapbox debate in November, Andrew McConnell, a marketing and business management major, created an oppositional Facebook page. The page was intended to be an outlet for students to discuss their concerns with the ban, but the opposition soon took off.
Those who are against the smoke-free initiative argue that if the initiative is passed, students who smoke will be forced to leave campus and travel to Lake Otis or Northern Lights in order to smoke. This includes students who live in the residence halls. Opponents would rather see designated smoking areas on campus rather than an outright ban on smoking and tobacco use.
McConnell said he would like to meet with task force members in order to come to a compromise and has reached out to them in the past, but they kept pushing back meeting times that eventually were not kept. McConnell is concerned that the task force is not willing to compromise on anything regarding this issue.
When asked about the meetings with McConnell, task force member Yesenia Carmarena said he was aggressive at times and they did not feel safe meeting with him. Carmarena said there is no point meeting with him now because the initiative has already been voted on.
During the week of the election, large signs against the initiative were put up across campus. Some of these signs were placed to close to the poll booths so the smoke-free task force has filed an ethics complaint against the posters. McConnell denies having anything to do with them.
McConnell said he was pleased with the results of the vote because it proves there are a lot more students on campus who are against the smoke-free policy than the smoke-free advocates would have you think.
The task force will now present the election results to Chancellor Tom Case, who has the authority to approve whether or not UAA becomes a comprehensive smoke- and tobacco-free campus.