The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 15, 2008

MSU considers smoking ban

Many students oppose proposal

By Tim Krohn

MANKATO — Minnesota State University is considering banning smoking campuswide.

The proposal is a result of the existing ban on smoking within 15 feet of a campus building entry not working well.

But the new proposal isn’t playing well with many students. And another state university that has a ban found unexpected consequences, including late-night smoking parties in the middle of the street, complete with live music.

A couple of years ago, MSU administration enacted a ban on smoking near building entries. But enforcement is “peer to peer” — students telling violating students to knock it off and move farther from the doorway. By most indications that hasn’t happened.

“I’ve never asked someone to move and I’ve never heard of anyone else doing it,” said Ryan Anderson, president of the MSU Student Association.

President Richard Davenport had said if the self-patrolling didn’t work — and he admits it hasn’t — he’d consider a smoking ban on all college property. That idea went through a campuswide review last year with no agreement and Davenport hasn’t taken any action.

The Student Association has, in nearly unanimous votes, come out against a campuswide ban. “We think they should have more enforcement of current rules,” Anderson said.

He questions how a campuswide ban would be enforced if the current policy isn’t, and students raised issues about the safety of pushing students off to the edges of campus to smoke. Anderson said there were also questions of fairness to smokers who live on campus who would not be able to step outside the residence halls to smoke.

At Minnesota State University-Moorhead, a campuswide smoking ban has brought many of the problems MSU critics have suggested.

MSU Moorhead security director Mike Parks said the college had considered a $40 ticket for violators but pulled the idea because security can’t give such tickets to faculty and staff on campus because of negotiated contracts.

Enforcing the ban, enacted last January, has fallen mostly to his security force. “We’re up to about 140 contacts with students. We try to educate them, with mixed results. We don’t want to be the smoking police, but we have to do it.”

He said the ban has brought some dangerous and somewhat amusing consequences.

Between classes, students often step into the street — not owned by the campus — and light up. “It’s pretty dangerous. We’re in an urban setting. You have cars zipping around and people just standing in the street smoking.”

And students have found a way to make a party out of the ban. On pleasant evenings, about 2 a.m., after bar closings, a large group of students takes over an intersection on campus to smoke.

“They actually bring a guitar and harmonica out there and play. It‘s next to the dorms, so we get noise complaints from people trying to sleep,” Parks said.

Finally, the college gets complaints from people living on the edge of campus when students go across the street and smoke in front of other people’s houses.

Moorhead students who are especially belligerent about warnings from security, or are repeat offenders — about 30 so far — end up referred to the campus judicial officer Ashley Atteberry.

“Ultimately, the conversation I have with a student is that it’s university policy and they need to be following it like any other policy,” Atteberry said.

“We’re going though that education period on this,” she said.

As for the policy at MSU, Davenport, in a written statement, suggests beefing up the current policy:

“We will continue to work with Student Senate leaders and bargaining groups on campus to write a new campus tobacco policy that will eliminate passive smoke from our sidewalks and building entrances. We’re not there yet, but I’m confident that we will be able to devise a policy that will be both effective and self-policing.”