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Following regional trend, MSU bans tobacco use on campus

Aug 15, 2016

If you want to smoke, chew or vape in East Lansing, you'll have to make sure to step off the Michigan State University campus first. 

A new policy taking effect today bans all tobacco use on MSU's campus. The University of Michigan passed a similar ban in 2011, meaning the state's two largest public universities now both prohibit tobacco use anywhere on their grounds. 

"Most of the public schools, both in Michigan and across the Big Ten, our peers, already have some version of a smoke-free, or in our case, tobacco-free policy," said MSU spokesman Jason Cody. "While there wasn't any one school we worked with directly when we started this process about two and a half years ago, we reached out to several Big Ten schools and several Michigan public schools about their experiences, how it worked, and tried to get as much feedback from them as we could."

Michigan State's decision goes further than some other bans. The University of Michigan, for instance, is merely a smoke-free campus, meaning there's no explicit prohibition on chewing tobacco or e-cigarette use. MSU's new guidelines ban the use of all tobacco products anywhere on campus.  "As we looked at different policies and what we wanted to do here, we made the decision that there's really no safe form of tobacco," Cody said. "While smoking may be the most prevalent use of tobacco, there's no safe form. So our policy incorporates cigarettes, chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes, vaping and any form of tobacco or tobacco-derived product." 

Enforcing the proposal, of course, is an entirely different matter. Don't expect to see campus cops running around issuing tickets. The goal of the ordinance, Cody says, is more about education than enforcement. 

The proposal relies on community enforcement, and community members who witness individuals violating the policy are encouraged to report it to the appropriate supervisory unit. In the case of students, that's MSU's office of student conflict resolution. For faculty and staff, that's their direct supervisor.

The enforcement guidelines mention MSU police only in the context of visitors. "Issues (for visitors) should be referred to the visitor's host or University Police," according to the official language from Tobacco Free MSU, a website detailing the new policy. 

"We're not naive," Cody said. "We don't believe that as of today, all tobacco use is going to cease. We know this is going to be a process, we know this is going to be a transition."

That said, the policy isn't toothless.

"This is an ordinance, so there are enforcement mechanisms that come along with it," Cody said. "As it is a civil ordinance, there was a fine. We did work closely with MSU police. They had members that were part of the tobacco-free task force. But again, our police have not been instructed to go out seeking people violating this policy and hand out tickets. That's just not what our intention is, nor what our plan is."

The plan is to reduce rates of tobacco use on campus, and even rates of tobacco use among members of the campus community regardless of their location. Cody said most campus-specific data about rates of tobacco use is anecdotal, but the Ingham County Department of Health pegs the countywide rate at "roughly 15% to 18%."

Data from 2014 published by the Centers for Disease Control shows 16.7% of Americans between 18 and 24 smoke cigarettes. That figure dropped to 7.9% for adults with a college degree.

MSU will include questions about tobacco use in its annual student surveys this year, and hopes to see numbers decline over the years now that the tobacco-free policy is in effect. 

"We've heard both anecdotally and national research, which shows most people who use tobacco, particularly smoking, have a desire to quit," Cody said. "Hopefully this move may be able to give some people the impetus and the motivation and the impetus to want to quit." 

MSU already offers smoking cessation resources to students and staff, which can be found here