An event meant to deter smoking nationwide was met by student dissenters rallying against a ban on their right to smoke.
Student protestors sat adjacent to the main entrance of the Mourant building at the University of Alaska Southeast Thursday for the 39th Annual Great American Smokeout Event sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
Local tobacco-awareness advocate Michael Patterson, known as the Ghostwalker, was present at the event with longtime friend and smoking cessation counselor Rowena Reeves, who helped him quit cigarettes for good.
“Every week, there was a little grin ... it was like watching a flower bloom,” Reeves said of Patterson’s recovery from nicotine addiction.
The Great American Smokeout, held on the first Thursday in November every year, encourages smokers nationwide to quit for just one day. According to the American Cancer Society, the first event on Nov. 18, 1976 led to nearly 1 million giving up the habit for 24 hours.
Next to the main table featuring pamphlets on quitting hotlines and cessation support services, a small group of UAS undergrads displayed homemade signs and petitions against the university’s smoking ban on campus.
Student Jarmyn Kramlich said he received an email from administrators a month ago informing students and staff of an impending ban on tobacco and tobacco-related products. The ban, covering all University of Alaska campuses, starts Dec. 1, 2015.
Kramlich responded to data on the growing trend of tobacco bans at universities across the country: “Just because it is popular, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”
As of October this year, 1,477 college campuses nationwide have become smoke-free, according to the Tobacco Free College Campus Initiative. Of this number, 975 schools also prohibit other tobacco-related products.
The proposed ban across all UA campuses would include smokeless tobacco and tobacco-containing products, along with cigars and cigarettes. The drafted regulation specified “electronic smoking or vaping devices,” and hookahs will also be prohibited.
“When you implement prohibition, it takes a problem that already exists and creates another problem,” Kramlich said. He clarified that he was not advocating smoking, but that a ban would simply lead to more issues such as cigarette butts littering the grass where ashtrays used to be.
Kramlich also pointed out that current smoking receptacles are generally located next to entryways. He proposed second-hand smoke could be avoided if designated smoking areas were located in less-trafficked locations.
Another student, Andrew McDonough, who had recently quit smoking, agreed that a restriction on smoking made it a little more appealing. He said the university’s effort to control a legal habit for students was disrespectful to him.
“They act like we can’t make the right decisions … We have to make our own mistakes,” McDonough said. “This is less about smoking and more about personal freedoms.”
Reeves, who reconnected with Patterson just after his Emphysema diagnosis and helped him quit for good, worried that the UAS ban was going too far.
“It would be unfortunate if it was shot down because it includes all tobacco,” she said. Prevention of second-hand smoke in public was the primary concern for her, which products like chewing tobacco or snuff would not affect.
E-cigarettes and vaping devices should be included in bans, said Reeves, who quit smoking 17 years ago. She said vapors from those devices contain harmful carcinogens, and one of her former clients even became addicted to e-cigarettes.
Reeves’ tobacco cessation program through SEARHC was terminated due to funding cuts a year ago, but she commends ongoing efforts to curb tobacco use.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said of the Juneau Assembly’s proposed increase in tobacco excise tax. “It has been shown to reduce initiation in youths.”
Tobacco excise taxes may soon increase from $1 to $3 per pack, with an additional $2 state tax and five percent city sales tax. Packs of cigarettes could cost as much as $15.
She said that while true addicts will pay any price, at the expense of necessities like food for their drug, she believes skyrocketing cigarette prices will deter youngsters from picking up the habit in the first place.
For help to quit smoking, call 1-800-QUITNOW.
•Stephanie Shor can be contacted at email@example.com or at (907) 523-2279.