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Mercer’s new smoke-free campus policy causes controversy

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Effective January 1, 2013, Mercer is a smoke-free campus. Almost two months since the new smoking policy went into effect, the college community is still trying to adapt to the new environment.

Before January 1, students, faculty and staff had access to smoking huts around campus where they would gather throughout the day.  With the new policy, smokers are only allowed to smoke inside of their vehicles in the parking lot.

According to Mercer’s website, the reason for the policy is an “interest in maintaining a healthy and safe environment for its students, faculty, staff and visitors.”

Although the current student handbook 2012-2013 has not been updated with the language of the new policy, for those who ignore the changes, signs on campus clarify that there are fines starting at $25 for first time offenders. The second time offenders will pay $50, and after that, each offense will be $100.

When asked to comment on the new smoking policy, Chief of Security Michael Flaherty said, “I’m not allowed to talk to The VOICE.”

Director of College Safety and Facilities Bryon Marshall told The VOICE that, so far, there has not been a fine issued regarding smoking on campus.

Marshall also said that students sometimes light up a cigarette on their way to the parking lot. “That is a stretch of the policy but for the large part we have reasonable compliance.”

As far as faculty, Marshall said that the policy applies to everybody and faculty will be treated the same as if a student was caught smoking on campus.

During the College Governance Council meeting on February 12, 2013, Marshall said that if someone sees another person smoking on campus, they should inform them about the policy.

A question raised during the College Governance Council meeting that didn’t have a clear answer whether the language of the policy is clear about smoking inside of vehicles. Marshall said “I will ask Jose [Fernandez] about smoking in the car.” Fernandez is the Executive Director for Compliance and Human Resources. When The VOICE attempted to obtain a comment from Fernandez an administrative assistant said “He is in a meeting all day.”

Executive Dean of Student Affairs Dr. L. Diane Campbell told the VOICE that so far she hasn’t heard anything negative about the policy. “Students are complying and not complaining.”

During the interview with The VOICE, Dean Campbell called Jose Fernandez who told her that, so far, no infractions have been reported.

Campbell also said everyone must be aware that it will be hard for some people.  “Smoking is a way to relax and I know I have couple of smokers on my staff, but they haven’t said anything so far.”

Dean Campbell also told The VOICE that  Assistant Dean of Students John Simone saw students smoking on campus. “He saw two students smoking but when he told them about the policy they put the cigarettes down right away.”

President of SGA Anderson Monken told The VOICE that security is “starting [to enforce the policy] so that the students can adjust to that.” He added, “I think they’re going in the right direction. It’s the healthy way to go.”

Dean of Liberal Arts Dr. Robin Schore told The VOICE that he knows about faculty members who stopped smoking. “I haven’t heard any complaints. I actually know that two professors quit smoking since the policy went into effect.”

Dean Schore also talked about the importance the smoking huts played on campus. “The smoking kiosks were an informal socializing place, where students [and faculty] used to meet and interact.” He said it would be beneficial to have something “less lethal” to substitute for the smoking huts as a socializing spot.

Vitaly Kazak, second year Chemistry major, says he still smokes around campus walking to and from the parking lot. “I used to go to the smoking huts and now I don’t have another place to go.”

Kazak said that he has seen other students and faculty smoking around campus since the new policy took effect. Kazak said he thought “Security is not really enforcing it.”

He also said that he is not really happy with the change and that Mercer should figure out a place for smokers.“We should have designated areas like everywhere else.”

While some students don’t agree with the smoke-free campus, others seem to be satisfied with the initiative.

Amanda Suarez, a second year Liberal Arts major at Mercer said that the policy is better for her because she has asthma and she also thinks that  “it’s a step in the right direction as far as health. It makes an added effort to try to get smokers to quit and just a better environment for everyone.”

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