In the fall of 2012, Westfield State University adopted a tobacco free campus policy. It reads, “Smoking and/or the use of tobacco products will not be permitted on any University property or University leased property including buildings, grounds, walkways, parking lots, wooded areas and all other property owned or operated by the University.” The goal of implementing the policy was to promote a healthier campus for all members of the community.
Before this rule was in place, smoking and the use of tobacco products was allowed anywhere on campus except inside buildings.
“First year students never got the experience of walking through a puff of smoke going into a building or sitting in a class with the windows open on a beautiful day and having the smoke come through,” shared Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Carlton Pickron.
The air was full of smoke that gave the campus a negative feel for visitors and those who attended the school. There was also the concern of second hand smoke inhalation.
“Second hand smoke was affecting others and caused a public health issue particularly since smokers were standing in the pathways of building doors and outside windows,” stated Sue LaMontagne, Dean of Student Affairs. Ultimately, the number of complaints for the community’s health led to the discussion of creating a tobacco free campus.
“Former president Evan S. Dobelle had the authority to go tobacco free over a year before we did. At first, we tried to create a no smoking zone 25 feet away from the buildings on campus,” explained Dr. Pickron.
While the plan was a good idea in theory, people did not have an idea of what the distance of 25 feet away from a building was and ultimately there was no change in where they smoked. There continued to be complaints from the community with no obvious change, which was the original goal.
“The President decided, after recommendations from the Substance Use Committee, to go ahead and make the campus tobacco free and smoke free with the authority he had from the Board of Trustees,” he said.
This meant that smoking was not allowed on any campus-owned property. It did, however, mean that smoking could happen on public sidewalks, such as the one that lines Western Ave, because that is city property.
Smokers began to follow this rule and would respect the fact that they had to walk over to the sidewalk before lighting a cigarette. At first it seemed as though this was a good solution to the smoking issue on campus. Soon everyone began to realize the plan had its flaws.
“Now you had people lined up on the sidewalk smoking and it didn’t look too good and the neighbors complained that they didn’t like it,” declared Dr. Pickron.
LaMontagne added, “After trying to be completely tobacco-free, the University observed that students and staff were smoking on the front sidewalks adjacent to Western Avenue and in the neighborhoods across the street.”
The local neighborhood committees brought forth the issue at numerous city meetings and soon the university realized they needed to create a new alternative.
The next idea proposed was to create designated smoking locations on school grounds. “We knew we were a tobacco free, smoke free campus, but we could have designated areas [for smoking] because we knew that people were still addicted to this habit and can’t quit ‘like-that’,” remarked Dr. Pickron.
The aforementioned idea led to the creation of the two smoking gazebos. He commented, “The president said ‘If we’re going to identify a place where they can smoke then it needs to have shelter, it needs to be accessible so if you’re in a wheelchair you would be able to get there.’”
Joshua Clark, SGA vice president of student life, added, “I think it was really important to add the smoking gazebos simply from a safety standpoint. Not only did it make the neighbors happy, but it provided safe spots for students to smoke.”
A total of $40,000 was spent to put up the gazebos; one is located behind the Ely Campus Center and the other in the Commuter Lot. These gazebos are monitored by members of Public Safety.
“Right when the gazebos went up in December 2012, you immediately saw a difference in the number of people smoking on undesignated locations,” Dr. Pickron shared.
People respected the fact that these locations were a privilege to have on a tobacco free campus. Following the completion of University Hall, another smoking location was designated, which is the picnic area in the woods. It was decided that it was far enough away from buildings on campus that it would not have a negative effect.
“Some people were really reluctant, but realistically unless you’re going to put a guard sitting there all the time there’s no way you’re going to stop people from smoking there; it’s just too natural of a space,” he stated.
“I as the Vice President told the President and members of Public Safety to ‘not get crazy’ and allow those people to smoke there.” In the spring of 2013, the Board of Trustees approved of this additional location.
“It was definitely a good move to allow the students to smoke by University Hall. We were seeing students smoke there regularly, and instead of bringing the book on them, it was wiser to allow that space,” added Clark.
“It has proven to be a natural space for smokers as there is seating and it is ideal for Public Safety because of the visibility from the road,” he added.
While the gazebos have been an effective addition to the smoke free campus, they have seen their fair share of disrespect.
Vandalism in the form of graffiti and damage are well associated with these locations.
“Seeing as these are technically a privilege to have here, I don’t get why people would want to destroy them,” shared an anonymous freshman. Some theorize that this is backlash at the campus for allowing tobacco on the said “tobacco free campus.”
The battle between a complete tobacco free campus and the allowance of some tobacco is, “a long term challenge just like [smoking], a really hard habit to kick,” explained Dr. Pickron.
It seems as though the compromise of the gazebos has been the longest lasting solution to tobacco being allowed on a tobacco free campus.
LaMontagne believes, “many folks do try to adhere to the areas but anecdotally, we also hear that some are still using other areas of campus – finding cigarette butts, for instance, in other areas.”
While everyone may not be happy with these decisions, “The bottom line is people are still smoking, but having been someone who’s been here for 31 years, the air is clearly cleaner,” affirmed Dr. Pickron.
He optimistically adds, “My hope is that one day we can get rid of the smoking locations because we would have a campus where 100 percent of people are not addicted to tobacco or nicotine.”