As part of Engage Week, UAA’s Smoke-Free Task Force, Seawolf Debate, the Journalism and Public Communications Department, and the Department of Health hosted a soapbox debate about whether or not UAA should initiate a comprehensive smoke-free policy. Five people represented the smoke-free proposition and four people represented the opposition.
Emmy Webb kicked off the debate by discussing anonymity. Webb stated everyone has the free choice to smoke but also said people have rights not to smoke and to not breathe in secondhand smoke.
Webb, who is pregnant, addressed concerns about the health risks of smoking to her unborn child. She said by breathing in secondhand smoke she is at higher risk for miscarriage and preterm labor asthma, and her child is at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome.
“Those who smoke on campus are putting their problems above other’s health considerations,” Webb said in the debate. “Your choice too smoke is taking away my choice of whether or not I want to smoke.”
English major Arlo Davis spoke on behalf of the motion to make UAA a smoke-free campus. Davis is a smoker who would like to quit smoking.
He said smoking tobacco has affected his life in a negative way. He has trouble keeping up with friends on hikes and camping trips, experiences shortness of breath and has a diminished sense of smell and taste because of cigarettes. Davis stated he was unaware of the resources available to him as a student to stop smoking.
Political science major Mark Simon spoke against the smoking ban. He said one of the most important things students learn in college is not something that is learned in the classroom, but rather outside the classroom. That lesson is teaching students how to make decisions for themselves, including smoking.
“If someone else made that decision for us, we are not going to learn the most important lesson for us in college,” Simon said. “If we want to talk about clean air, lets talk about car emissions and pollution. Let’s not talk about something as small as cigarettes.”
Shortly after the debate, business marketing major Andrew McConnell created a new Facebook page, “Proud to Oppose a Smoke-Free UAA.” The page is intended for students to discuss ideas that would be good alternatives to the 100 percent smoke- or tobacco-free policy. The page had approximately 90 “likes” within 24 hours.
McConnell dislikes cigarettes and has had a family member die from smoking tobacco. One of his friends is in the hospital and is battling life-threatening mouth cancer. However, McConnell, who is the former USUAA student body vice president, does not support the initiative in its current form because it is too drastic.
McConnell says his group has not heard of any effort by the Smoke-Free Task Force to be more flexible in their stance. He referred to an e-mail to a member of his group from Gabriel Garcia, who is a faculty adviser for the task force, that stated the following:
“Thank you for your perspective. UAA already has designated smoking areas. However, any level of secondhand smoke is harmful. Just because you don’t see or smell it doesn’t mean you aren’t affected by secondhand smoke.”
McConnell also referred to statements made by the Smoke-Free Task Force at the Board of Regents meeting last year. When asked by a board member about designated smoking areas, Garcia stated designated smoking areas would not be effective because the smoke would still travel and continue to affect people who don’t smoke at UAA.
The Stop Smoke-Free UAA Task Force believes the e-mailed survey sent from the Smoke-Free Task Force was too biased. The Stop Smoke-Free UAA Task Force is collecting data about alternatives. They plan on presenting this data to USUAA student government, the Faculty Alliance and the Chancellor’s Office. They also plan on discussing the matter with the Board of Regents if the current initiative moves forward. UAA has been designated the “health university” among the University of Alaska system. Those who started the Smoke-Free Task Force believe UAA must lead by example because of this. They would eventually like to see all campuses within the UA system go smoke-free.
There are community-wide and on-campus resources available for those who would like to quit smoking. The UAA Health and Counseling Center in Rasmuson Hall Room 116 has resources available to students at reduced rates. The Alaska Tobacco Quit Line is another resource, and it can be reached at 1-800-784-8669.