By Cameron Justice
The Volunteer State Community College Presidential Cabinet shall soon make a decision that will affect the entire Vol State community. Observing the precedence set by other Universities, the Vol State campus may soon be converted to a tobacco-free environment.
The final declaration of a new policy, to increase regulations concerning tobacco use on campus, is still being formulated. Vol State President Jerry Faulkner intends to announce the amended tobacco policy early in the fall semester, but change will probably not be implemented until Jan 2014.
Discussions to change Vol State’s acceptance of tobacco use has been underway for some time as President Faulkner explained.
“I started this discussion last year with the Student Government Association, and attended one of their meetings to do so.”
“Right now the way it’s set up is there is to be no tobacco use, of course, inside any buildings or [Vol State] owned vehicles or within 20 feet of any door or entryway to any of our buildings,” Faulkner said.
After speaking with SGA and examining what guidelines other colligate institutions have instituted, Faulkner is considering “modifying the tobacco use policy for the campus.”
“Many institutions around the country, including some of our sister institutions here in Tennessee, have gone to a tobacco free campus policy,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner explained that on the grounds of those institutions, tobacco cannot be used at all, except inside privately owned vehicles.
Being restricted to using tobacco inside one’s own vehicle will not necessarily be the fate of the Vol State community. Faulkner admits that his cabinet is still in the investigation phase of determining how to handle the current tobacco conundrum.
“We’re looking at a variety of options. Why reinvent the wheel if we can find another campus with policies in effect that would meet our needs,” asks Faulkner.
Shadowing the efforts of other educational institutions is not the sole reason for bringing about a change in Vol State’s tobacco-use policy. The overall comfort and health of Vol State’s students, faculty and staff are at the forefront of conversations regarding tobacco.
“There has been some complaints made by students about having to walk through a cloud of smoke to get into their building,” Faulkner says.
“There have been a few of those complaints, but this is more about our campus being a more healthy campus. It’s important that we set an environment here that teaches a healthy lifestyle,” Faulkner continued to explain.
President Faulkner explicitly acknowledged that these policy changes are not strictly for cigarette smokers, but all forms of tobacco use.
“While smoking is probably the most obvious part of this policy, because you can’t hide a cigarette, it will encompass all tobacco use including smokeless tobacco,” said Faulkner.
He admits that dipping, spitting and chewing are not attractive qualities, and Faulkner said these activities should not be done in class because it can be a distraction to students.
Faulkner said he understands that students are not the only tobacco users on campus, and that Vol State employees will also be affected by a change in policy.
“We are also trying to consider our employees. This is not just about the students; everybody will have to abide by this policy. While a student may be on campus for one or two hours, our employees have to be here all day long. We have to take that into consideration as well,” Faulkner said.
Regardless of any effort to better the quality of campus life, some students and faculty have expressed their concerns about the changes in tobacco acceptance at Vol State.
“I think Vol State becoming tobacco free is a little ridiculous. We’re all adults here,” said Vol State student Charles Mathis.
“I can understand smoking not being allowed at high schools, but this is college and we are adults. If we want to walk around and smoke we should be able to,” Mathis continued.
Not only did Mathis say college age students should be allowed to safely smoke on campus, but he entertains the idea that smoking is an entitled right.
“It’s their campus and they can do what they want. I don’t feel like my rights are being stepped on too much by them changing the rules, but I definitely don’t want to lose my right to walk around campus with a cigarette in my hand,” Mathis said.
State law does allow anyone 18 years of age or older to use tobacco at their leisure, but President Faulkner explains that tobacco use is not an actual right.
“I don’t know of any place that says you have the right to smoke. It’s not in the constitution. So, we aren’t talking about rights in the classic definition of what someone’s rights are,” said Faulkner.
“[Smoking] is an unhelpful activity that does have an impact on others. The effects of second-hand smoke are well documented. I’m not sure this is a rights issue. To me, it’s a health issue,” Faulkner said.
“Other people have the right to breathe clean air, and the right to not see dip spit on campus,” Faulkner continued.
Others on campus seem to have coinciding opinions with President Faulkner when it comes to the use of tobacco.
“I know that the arguments for and against this are that it’s people’s right to smoke. I am for your maximum freedom, as long as your freedom doesn’t interfere with my freedom,” said Social Science professor Dr. George Pimentel.
“I don’t want to smell cigarette smoke. I don’t want to walk through a cloud of smoke every time I leave the building. It is you’re right to smoke, but it’s my right to not have to deal with the smoke,” Pimentel said.
Accepting that Vol State’s tobacco policies will likely be changing, means accepting new habits for Vol State tobacco users.
“I know that it’s going to be inconvenient for some, and I know it’s going to take some time to adjust, but people are adaptive and will adjust,” said Pimentel.
“One of my classes is only ten minutes after another. So, I definitely wouldn’t have time to run to my car, smoke, and get back to class on time,” Mathis said on the topic of adjustment.
President Faulkner realizes that students rushing to their car between classes could become a problem.
“That is certainly a possibility, but like with any other aspect of life, the students will have to make a choice. They will have to decide if getting a few drags off of a cigarette is more important than their education,” said Faulkner.
“Students won’t be walking in ten minutes late to my class,” said Pimentel.
“Students will have to adjust. I’m sure there will be a period of adjustment. There’s going to be a learning curve, but students will have to adjust to having designated break times,” Pimentel continued.
To help students adjust to new policies regarding tobacco use, President Faulkner offers words of encouragement and a plan of action to help people overcome nicotine addiction.
“I’m a former two-pack-a-day smoker. In my late 20s I was a heavy smoker, and I understand how hard it is to quit. I understand the nicotine addiction, whether you get it through smoking or oral use. I do understand the difficulty of giving that up,” said Faulkner.
“We do want to phase this in. We want to make the decision early in the fall semester in order to join in with the American Cancer Society for the Great American Smoke-Out, which comes along in November,” said Faulkner.
President Faulkner even stated that there will be stop smoking clinics for people that want to participate.
Clearing the air of undesirable, carcinogen filled smoke does not seem to be the issue of utmost importance for those supporting the change in tobacco acceptability on campus. The personal health of Vol State students and staff appears to be the overriding issue with both President Faulkner and Dr. Pimentel.
“If this policy helps people quit smoking, then hopefully some of our students will live a healthier life down the road,” said Pimentel.
“To me this is all about a healthy lifestyle,” said Faulkner.