Up in smoke: Tobacco-free policy sparks controversy

By MAKENZIE HUBER Editor-in-Chief

The six-year controversy surrounding South Dakota State becoming a tobacco-free campus isn’t over.

After nearly half a decade of opposition, Students’ Association passed a resolution supporting a smoke-free campus spring semester. However, SA later struck down a tobacco ban. 

Despite SA’s vote, SDSU administration plowed ahead in its effort to establish SDSU as a tobacco-free campus.

“As students, we don’t really have a voice at all,” said Irakoze Naftari, an at-large SA senator who voted against both resolutions. “I feel like whatever we talked about that night was just a waste of time. There’s no point in discussing anything if they were going to make that decision over SA. The question is, why discuss it in the first place if we don’t have a voice?”

Students can give their opinion about the new policy during a 30-day public comment period by emailing Karyn Weber, chief of staff for the Office of the President. After the comment period, there will be another review before the policy is finalized.

The policy bans the use of all tobacco within SDSU boundaries, including personal vehicles on campus property. SDSU’s current policy — smoking must be 25 feet away from a building with tobacco use allowed — will stay in place until then.

Nathan Voegele, a sophomore construction management major and tobacco user, doesn’t plan to follow the new policy, calling it an “arbitrary rule.” 

“I definitely feel like it’s not something that should be their [the administration’s] concern,” Voegele said. “Everyone that goes here is an adult and is free to make their own choices.”

Former SA Vice President Lane Speirs said it is a “bit of an overstep” for the administration to ignore SA’s opinion and it “goes against the wishes of the students.”

{{tncms-asset app=”editorial” id=”ee6c675a-8d94-11e7-b6f0-cb6559543978″}}

(Click to enlarge)

“It wasn’t just black-and-white, pro-and-con side when it came to the chewable tobacco. To see that part being overshadowed and lumped in as a 100 percent complete ban of all tobacco products I think is a little unfortunate,” Speirs said. “I think the Students’ Association … what they debate about and their decisions, whatever they come to, should hold water.”

Speirs, a senior agricultural communications major, thinks the tobacco policy should be brought back to SA for a vote before the university implements it.

Smokeless tobacco use is more prevalent among the student population, according to SA President Taylin Albrecht, but smoking is more common for staff and faculty.

“Although campus is primarily for the students, there are a lot of different pieces that make up the whole climate here,” Albrecht said about how the policy was vetted and addresses the SDSU community. 

Dana Kurtz, senior dietetics major and president of Helping Everyone Reach Optimal Health (HEROH), said she was surprised by the university’s decision to implement a ban without SA’s support, but still thinks it’s the right decision.

Kurtz and HEROH helped establish the tobacco ban, gathering more than 1,000 signatures, about 8 percent of the student population, in support of a tobacco-free campus.

According to Wellness Coordinator Mariah Weber, who wrote the initial policy draft, about 1,400 universities are tobacco-free across the U.S. This is evidence that a tobacco-free environment is a new “norm.”

“I think that we’re really behind the curve when it comes to being a tobacco-free campus,” Weber said in an article published in the Aug. 23 issue of The Collegian.

The main goal of the policy is to educate, Weber said. Students won’t be reprimanded for smoking, but will be given educational resources about its negative effects.

“We don’t necessarily want to have hall monitors walking around with jackets on and scolding people who are using tobacco products,” Weber said. “We’re really trying to push education.”

If students refuse to comply with the policy, the Office of Student Affairs will follow up with them, or the student will be given cessation support resources — which may include both counseling and classes. Staff and faculty will also have to adhere to the policy.

Doug Wermedal, associate vice president of Student Affairs, doesn’t want students to feel like this is an attack on their morals just because they smoke.

But Speirs is afraid the policy will only alienate people who choose to smoke or use tobacco. 

According to Naftari, the decision to create a tobacco-free campus leaves out international students since many regard it as a cultural practice. 

“This is what defines us as international students,” he said. “This is what defines me as a person from the Middle East. This is what defines me as a person from Europe or a person from Africa. So you can’t tell me you care when you’re taking a part of me away.”


Reasons for implementation: 

  • Keep up with peer institutions 
  • Reflect the likely work environment 
  • Protect public health
  • Encourage a healthier environment
  • Reduce negative environmental impacts

Peer institutions’ tobacco policies:

  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology prohibits smoking, including vaping
  • Black Hills State permits tobacco use in parking lots
  • Dakota State bans all tobacco use
  • USD prohibits tobacco use, but lacks a clear enforcement policy