One of Scott Schenkelberg’s first memories after arriving at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was walking across campus behind a group of people smoking cigarettes.
“I just remember breathing that in and thinking about how disgusting it was,” said Schenkelberg, now a senior mechanical engineering major from Omaha.
When he joined the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska as a junior, Schenkelberg said one of his goals was to craft a policy that would make UNL smoke-free — a measure he said would improve the health of students as well as the appearance of the Lincoln campus.
On Wednesday, during the annual ASUN elections, students can weigh in on a smoking ban on campus, whether to allow smokers to use only designated areas on campus or to leave UNL’s current policy in place.
UNL currently bans the use of tobacco — including electronic cigarettes — in campus facilities and vehicles, while allowing tobacco use outside of a 10- to 25-foot buffer zone surrounding most campus buildings.
The survey will be used to create a metric for what direction ASUN should take in the future, according to Spencer Hartman, president of ASUN and a student member of the NU Board of Regents.
“Usually to move a policy forward, senators around the table want some sort of feel for where their constituencies are at, particularly in something this monumental that would affect campus life,” said Hartman, a senior ag economics major from Imperial.
Schenkelberg said others within ASUN and on an ad hoc “Tobacco-Free Campus Task Force” comprised of UNL students, human resources managers, facilities management, landscape services, UNL Police and Husker Athletics have also pushed for a smoking ban.
Nebraska law prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, keno establishments, workplaces and other indoor public areas.
If UNL adopts a smoking ban, it would join a growing number of U.S. colleges and universities to do so, according to Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, which has tracked college policies related to smoking since 2001.
“For a lot of campuses, they are not included in a local or statewide smoke-free workplace law despite the fact campuses are workplaces as well as institutions of higher learning,” Hallett said.
Data collected in 2010 showed 446 university and college campuses had banned smoking. That figure has grown to 1,757 this year, according to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.
Hallett said the spike is the result of education campaigns about the negative impacts of cigarette smoking as well as other tobacco use, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, causes more than 480,000 deaths a year.
UNL remains one of three Big Ten universities to not have banned smoking on its campus, as well as the only campus in the University of Nebraska system without a tobacco-free policy.
UNO enacted a smoking ban last Aug. 22 — two years after a discarded cigarette caused a fire in a dorm room — while UNK banned tobacco from all campus grounds last fall, leaving designated locations in parking lots, according to spokesman Todd Gottula.
UNMC banned smoking on campus in 2009, and other universities in Nebraska have also snuffed out smoking in the meantime.
“We’re really behind the times,” Schenkelberg said. “Sharing that information with a lot of students, they saw where I was coming from and some had similar experiences to what I did.”
Schenkelberg said he isn’t opposed to smoking, but argued smokers should not be allowed to infringe upon the airspace of nonsmokers.
Hartman said he has heard mixed opinions from different student groups on a proposed smoking ban across campus.
Schenkelberg said he looks forward to seeing students’ opinions about a proposed policy change that would affect “everybody who works at the university or interacts with it on a daily basis.”
“If they don’t want a policy, then that’s how it is — at least we’ve let their voices be heard and that’s the important thing,” he said. “This is really one moment to get a collective opinion of everyone on campus.”
Source: Lincoln Journal Star
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