Oberlin to Promote Tobacco-Free Campus

Smoking_by Arcadia Rom-Frank_MASTER

Arcadia Rom-Frank

Students adhere to the 30-foot rule outside of Mudd library. Although the regulation is thought of as a compromise, the administration is pushing for an even stricter rule — a ban of all tobacco from campus.

Louis Krauss, News Editor

Despite its reputation as an exceptionally tolerant campus, Oberlin is in the midst of beginning a college-wide policy that will ban something that many students have accepted as the norm — smoking tobacco.

According to Associate Dean and Director of Wellness and Health Promotion Lori Morgan Flood, this plan originated three years ago when the Oberlin Tobacco Subcommittee ––A group of six, including Flood, members from Safety and Security, Student Wellness and Loraine County ­­–– was formed and noticed more schools adopting a smoke-free policy.

“We saw a national trend for colleges to better address tobacco as a health concern. The number of schools to go tobacco-free has risen to over 1,182 and has doubled from July 2011 to 2013,” Flood said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), approximately 40.1 percent of all non-smoking Americans have been found to have nicotine in them, and an estimated 440,000 Americans die each year due to smoking, including close to 50,000 deaths solely due to secondhand smoke.

According to Flood, “the CDC is very clear — more deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined. That’s a hard concept to wrap your mind around, but it’s true. Perhaps it is difficult to think about as a student because the future seems so far off when you’re smoking at 18 … but it is a reality.”

Although the administration seems to have made up its mind, a recent referendum showed a split in student opinion, with 41 percent of students voting for the ban, and 41 percent against. Flood also mentioned that the town of Oberlin is trying to limit smoking, and City Manager Eric Norenberg has been supporting Oberlin as the Lorain County Health Administrator.

At a Student Senate forum the week before fall break, Senate Liaison and college Sophomore Machmud Makhmudov said that the main reason the Senate wants this to happen is a combination of health concerns, and the fact that many separate groups of friends are formed around those who smoke and those who don’t.

“One thing that happens at every college is that people come in feeling insecure and they want to make friends, so they naturally congregate towards groups of people who are already together. And for one reason or another we have a lot of smokers here, both those who begin smoking here and those who have been smoking. So those people hang out their first year, and people trying to make friends start hanging out with them and start smoking.” Makhmudov said.

Makhmudov added that he also noticed these smoking groups during his freshman year, and believes getting rid of smoking would help eliminate these cliques and make students more inclusive.

“Last year a lot of my classmates said their experience at Oberlin was very different than what they expected it to be. I think about why, and I think of people in my grade and your grade that have come up to me and said they want to quit smoking, but they can’t.”

Makhmudov believes that these social groups, along with the health concerns that come with smoking, make this a primary issue at Oberlin. He also noted that this change would lead to classes that “attract students who don’t want to be in a campus filled with smoke.”

In contrast, College sophomore Bill Derrah says that exclusive groups of friends would still exist.

“That happens with marijuana, with beer, with playing an instrument or being in a certain major. People will find excuses to be in social groups and banning smoking won’t change that.”

Along with social groups, others question whether tobacco should be the correct drug to be targeting. College junior Sofie Ghitman says that while she won’t be affected by the change in policy, alcohol makes more sense to target.

“I am a cigarette smoker. I started in 10th grade, so it wasn’t an Oberlin produced habit. I’m curious because other forms of substance abuse cause much bigger problems. Alcohol abuse here seems much more serious and scary than the smoking that I see here. Alcohol has much more long term effects. I’m concerned about regulating behavior among people,” Ghitman said.

Another relevant concern is the likelihood of the potential policy to deter students from applying.

“It’s definitely something we’ll be discussing,” said President Krislov.

Some students strongly oppose the idea and say that turning away smokers would be depriving Oberlin of good people who happen to smoke. College sophomore Colin Seikel said at the Senate forum that discouraging smokers is a bad idea.

“Something that crossed my mind is that targeting smoking is like targeting rebellion. There are going to be smokers in high school who say, I can’t go there because it’s a tobacco- free campus. Also, people are going to feel like there are no resources. It seems a little sticky to me, because by becoming a tobacco free campus you’re pushing away valuable people,” Seikel said.

“As far as the people who want to stop smoking, class really plays a big role. If we’re pushing away as many people as we’re pulling in, it’s unfair to the lower class students who don’t have an option to kick tobacco.” Seikel said.

Although many of the current voices are that of opposition, there is still a strong presence of support for the ban. According to College freshman Emma Snape, it’s important to keep in mind what students want.

“I’m in favor with [the] provision that it’s a gradual ban, and that it takes into account students’ actual opinions on it. If it’s not popular with the students then it’s not really fair,” Snape said.

According to several deans and Makhmudov, the ban on tobacco is inevitable, as it is a nationwide trend, and many students have asked for it. According to Flood, it’s also important to do it sooner rather than later and that in the long run the nationwide trend of this change will also influence Oberlin.

“It’s going to happen anyway. I think it’s important to make sure that Oberlin is not the last. Because of that we have to move quickly for it to happen,” Flood said.

But Liaison Makhmudov is confident that this is something the majority of people want, and alleges that the many smokers who have voiced their challenges with smoking say that the ban  is a good idea.

“I think it’s going to happen because this, beyond anything else, is what people have been asking me for. Not just students — faculty, past students. Future students who don’t have a way of saying so, they demonstrate they the fact they don’t want smoke on campus by the choice that they don’t attend Oberlin.”

Student and Senate voting for this plan will happen around March of next year.