Smokers are feeling the heat not from law enforcement, but their peers

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Michigan State enforced a tobacco-free campus beginning in August of 2016. Since then, it’s not the potential of a ticket that has smokers on edge –– it’s the disapproval from stares and comments made by their fellow peers.

Anywhere between 10 and 12 Newport Menthol 100s will get MSU senior Jacob Hicks through the day. Some of those smoke breaks happen at his duplex on Burcham Street, but some of them happen on MSUs 5,200 acre campus.

And despite the campus enforcing a tobacco ban that went into effect August 15 of 2016, that’s not what has Hicks worried. It’s the fact that when he lights up his cigarette behind a tree far away from any university building, he still gets a dirty look from the one passer-by on his or her way home from class.

“I try to obey (the tobacco ban), but it’s just inconvenient most of the time,” Hicks said. “I’m not in anyone’s way when I smoke. I get the ban in some ways –– if someone is chiefing a cigarette in the middle of the sidewalk, no one wants to walk through it. At the same time, it isolates us (smokers) a little bit from the rest of campus.”

Hicks is just one of the many students who are affected by the campus wide prohibition of tobacco. Among MSU students surveyed most recently in 2014, eight percent admitted to smoking cigarettes six or more days in the previous 30. That number was at 13.2 percent just a decade earlier.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s most recent statistics in 2015, 13 percent of adults aged 18-24 smoke cigarettes, and 18.5 percent of adults with some college education (no degree) smoke cigarettes, and that includes adults still enrolled at a college or university.

The CDC statistics for smoking rates among students and adults have been steadily decreasing over the last 15 years. However, recent projections show that student rates might climb by the time 2020 arrives.

The CDC statistics for smoking rates among students and adults have been steadily decreasing over the last 15 years. However, recent projections show that student rates might climb by the time 2020 arrives.

In fact, the number of student smoker has decreased by more than half in the past 20 years, although the CDC announced that their projection of student smokers has increased by just 0.3 percent in 2020. With these decreasing smoking rates, MSU spokesman Jason Cody said that the tobacco ban was enforced to educate people that the campus was “trying to become a healthier place.”

Enforcement of the ban has not been a primary issue for the Michigan State Police Department either, according to Michigan State Police Public Information Officer Doug Monette. In late December of 2016, the Lansing State Journal reported that only one civil infraction ticket (up to a $150 fine) had been written for breaking the tobacco-free campus policy. It is now February, and that number remains the same –– one ticket for the use of smokeless chewing tobacco on Oct. 8 of 2016.

“I can’t speak for officers who don’t ticket violators, but I know the ban is just trying to make MSU a healthier campus,” Monette said.

A ban on smoking, such as the former rule of no smoking within 50 feet of campus buildings, is being advocated for by some students like MSU senior Andrew Heavin. Heavin believes the original rule was solid in structure but not enforced with enough authority. He also believes that tobacco products like snus and smokeless tobacco have no reason being a part of the law.

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” MSU senior Andrew Heavin said. “I can maybe understand if you don’t want to walk through a cloud of smoke, but chewing tobacco doesn’t affect anyone, that is if you don’t spit in their face.”

Quick -Did You Know- Facts on Michigan State University's Tobacco-Free Campus

Despite the already decreasing numbers in smoking rates, MSU decided to join the 1,757 smoke-free campus sites in the United States as of Jan. 2, 2017. Of these, 1,468 are also 100 percent tobacco-free and 1,331 also prohibit e-cigarette use, both of which include MSU. And though numbers are down, the ordinance is still something that Kathi Braunlich, a Student Health Services employee and member of the Tobacco Free MSU task force thinks has been a successful campaign.

“ I have noticed that there are fewer cigarette butts on the sidewalks and in the grass but more at the entrances to campus off Grand River Avenue,” Braunlich said. “ I’ve also noticed a significant decline in the times I have to walk through second-hand smoke while out on campus.”

And with just one infraction written up in the six months the ban has been enforced, the smokers at MSU aren’t too worried about the law enforcement. They are concerned about their fellow peers on campus.

“I don’t want to piss anyone off or anything like that,” Hicks said. “A lot of people don’t like cigarettes so I try to do it out of the way. It is what it is, man. I’m doing the best I can. Not quitting or anything, but remaining out of the way, even though there should be some mutual respect but hey, like I said, it is what it is.”

For more information regarding the tobacco-free campus at MSU, be sure to follow the JRN 400 Health Team on Twitter (@Healthand U_MSU)