Sep 10th, 2007 @ 1:55 pm | Author: By Ellen-Earle Chaffee
As of January 1, 2008, Valley City State University will be a tobacco-free campus – no tobacco use of any kind in the buildings or anywhere on campus. Our public buildings and university vehicles have been smoke-free for about 20 years by directive of the State Board of Higher Education. Several years ago, we extended the smoking ban to include residence hall rooms. Now we will extend that policy to include the grounds and any other tobacco use.

We do not have figures on tobacco use among faculty and staff, but we surveyed students last year. Of the 227 who responded, 15 percent said they smoked and 5 percent said they chewed tobacco. Nearly half of the respondents lived on campus.

The new policy stems from and has generated a fair amount of discussion on campus. Staff Senate initiated discussions of the idea a couple of years ago and asked Faculty Senate and Student Senate to express their views, too. Their deliberations did not yield a specific, widely supported policy recommendation, but the extensive and lengthy debate indicated that the issue that mattered to a number of people.

The discussions raised some fundamental issues, the most basic of which is individual freedoms and rights. On one hand, tobacco is legal and people are entitled to use it even to the detriment of their own health. On the other hand, tobacco use can jeopardize the health of someone else, cause unsightly litter, and create unpleasant air for others. Much more can be said on both sides of the matter, and over the last two years much of it has been said. As far as I have seen, the discussions have been civil, constructive, respectful, and sometimes research-based. That is exactly the kind of thought and communication a university exists to advance.

Other questions have focused on how the policy will be implemented. Briefly stated, the policy prohibits all forms of tobacco use by any and all people anywhere on the campus. If an individual reports a violation, the university will follow up. We expect that in most cases, informing the individual of the policy will lead to immediate voluntary compliance. If not, university officials will decide what penalty is appropriate for that situation.

UND president Charles Kupchella is a scientist whose specialty is cancer research. He has said, in effect, 'The penalty for smoking is death. If people want to do it, they should do it somewhere else. We at UND are asking people to respect the wishes of a majority of our faculty, staff, and students who wish to reduce the negative impact of tobacco on our campus.'

Kupchella continued, 'Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, claiming more than 440,000 lives each year, including 860 in North Dakota.'

Valley City State University does not wish to be part of that process. We want to live, and we want you to live. The New Year will bring a new affirmation of those goals.