Smoke-free initiative enters final stage
To light up a cigarette, students will now have to leave campus perimeter because as of Aug. 1, Phase III of the Smoke-Free Campus Initiative has begun, making the Coral Gables campus completely smoke-free.
The previous phases restricted smokers to designated areas on campus and then cut the number of those areas in half in spring 2011 and fall 2012 respectively.
“I think the student body will react well to it, and they have from what we’ve seen so far,” said Student Government President Bhumi Patel. “The entire process actually began with the students and a survey in which a majority of students responded that they would support a smoke-free campus. It is truly a student initiative that SG and administration worked together on.”
Forming the smoke-free committee
The idea to make the university smoke-free began after the Miller School of Medicine campus went completely smoke-free in March 2010. Following that example, undergraduate, graduate and law school students formed a Smoke Free committee and petitioned the university to become a smoke-free campus.
After conducting a survey of students, the majority agreed they wanted a smoke-free campus, but also agreed with having designated smoking areas.
The project was then split into three phases to give students who smoke the opportunity to take advantage of the free smoking cessation resources offered on campus.
“It’s a big deal to go smoke-free if smokers are used to smoking wherever they want, so it was set up to take some baby steps toward what they ultimately want to do,” said Virginia Perez, director of the Be Smoke Free program. “Really the biggest push behind smoke-free was to make sure students, employees, visitors, everybody can have fresh air.”
The committee then identified initial concerns about enforcement, residential and international students and the safety of students walking to the edge of campus to smoke.
Enforcing the policy
At the Miller School of Medicine, the policy is enforced by security guards who have been trained on speaking with smokers and asking them to put their cigarettes out. The medical campus also has “Smoke-Free Ambassadors,” designated individuals who politely ask those who are not complying with university policy to put out their cigarettes.
On the Coral Gables campus, security guards do not have the duty of enforcing the no-smoking policy. However, Gilbert Arias, assistant vice president for student affairs, feels it is everyone’s responsibility to enforce it.
“In terms of a smoke-free campus and enforcing that, it’s all of our responsibility,” Arias said. “The whole message that is being sent by the university is promoting a healthy environment, promoting a healthy university, a healthy campus, thereby sending the message to students and visitors that we believe in a healthy environment and educating our community about the fact that smoking is not good for you.”
Spreading community awareness
One such resource, the Be Smoke Free program, is a free, six-week smoking cessation program open to anyone. It began over 10 years ago to help employees quit smoking and has expanded to serve the community.
Perez has seen a significant increase in attendees, both employees and students, once the smoke-free policy was put in place. She has also seen international students complete the program and says it has been great for them.
“I think coming to the country and seeing how different it is here, how are there are so many places that you can’t smoke or it’s looked down upon in certain areas, sometimes they’ll say my whole family smokes, it’s just a cultural thing,” she said. “It is a shift for them, but they are aware of how hard it is or how bad it is for their health, so I think certainly the push toward going smoke-free is very helpful to them.”
Freshman Zhiwei Xia, an international student from China, says she hates the smell of smoke and is glad it is being contained, but believes there should be designated areas for smokers.
“If you want to smoke, I think we should have some spaces, but not the whole campus,” she said. “For someone like me who doesn’t like smoke, it works.”
Since students are required to leave campus to smoke, there is also the issue of safety. Arias hopes students took advantage of the smoking cessation programs, but says they will be monitoring this problem as the semester unfolds.
“I’m sure there will still be people who smoke on campus, even though they’re not allowed to, but we just need to take the time to remind them that we want a completely smoke-free environment,” he said.
In addition to reminding others, the administration has focused on spreading the word and educating people through posters, banners and informational signs to make sure everyone is aware of the change.
“More than anything it’s the health and safety of our community that this whole thing is centered around, so just to help the process go smoothly, not being so drastic,” Perez said. “But nevertheless we were consistent in making sure the efforts got under way so that this can really be a community of wellness for everybody.”