Limited Smoking Ban Could Come to WKU


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Within three years, a smoking ban could come to Western Kentucky University, or the WKU Administrative Council could choose to keep the 39 designated smoking areas on campus and not change a thing.

The WKU Student Government Association Senate on Tuesday approved a resolution by a 13-11 vote that asks the Administrative Council to design a plan to limit tobacco use at designated smoking areas and to winnow smoking on campus over a three-year period. SGA has been in discussions with WKU Staff Council to come up with a resolution on which both groups could agree.

SGA President Nicki Taylor said before the meeting that the administration indicated if the groups could reach an accord, the idea could become reality.

The SGA Executive Council approved the measure 4-0-1 to send it to the university’s Administrative Council, which is made up of WKU President Gary Ransdell, Provost Gordon Emslie and university vice presidents. Taylor abstained during the executive council vote.

Taylor also is member of the WKU Board of Regents, which may not have a vote on the matter.

The SGA resolution does not affect the university’s regional campuses in Glasgow, Owensboro and Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, where 5,000 students attend.

To help rid the campus of tobacco, WKU is offering smoking cessation strategies in its revamped 2015 Employee Health Plan. When employees embrace a wellness concept, money is put into their Health Savings Account or other health savings vehicle to help pay for health costs.

The SGA resolution tried have it both ways Tuesday. While it kept the language that indicated the desire for a smoking ban, it also kept language that “the SGA opposes a campus-wide smoking ban at this time.”

Debate on the resolution revolved around students’ rights. Senate member Joe Hunter opposed the resolution because he said it discriminates against a lifestyle students have the freedom to choose.

WKU students are mandated to live in dormitories for the first two years of their education, so some students believe this restriction, coupled with an intended tobacco ban, boxes those students in a living situation they wouldn’t like. Proponents of the limited smoking ban said they are tired of walking through second-hand smoke on campus.

SGA Chief of Staff Seth Church, who sponsored the measure, said it’s dialed back from a 2014 proposal. “This is a much better policy,” he said.

The 2014 measure sought a total tobacco ban.

Tuesday’s resolution noted current university policy, which allows 85 percent of nonsmoking students to be exposed to second-hand smoke. Research shows, the resolution stated, that 70 percent of smokers want to quit. The resolution did not indicate the source of the research.

The resolution also noted that “a similar policy at Eastern Kentucky University saved the university over $900,000 a year in employee insurance plans to cover preventable health conditions associated with smoking.” It also claimed that peer-reviewed studies show smoke-free policies do not have an adverse economic impact.

During debate, a student noted that an eventual ban might discourage students from attending WKU, choosing to take their education dollars elsewhere. The SGA approach is modeled after limited smoking bans at Purdue University in Indiana and the University of Memphis, according to the resolution. A footnote to the resolution cited statistics from WKU’s chapter of the Kentucky Public Health Association.

“This is a good step forward to slowly move us into a smoke-free campus,” Church said.

Current university smoking policy permits smoking 30 feet from the entrance to a building. One student said the resolution is in response to a public outcry.

J. William Berry, a co-sponsor of the measure, said a petition from 1,500 students urged SGA to act on the matter. That’s more students than vote in a typical student government election at the end of the spring semester.

Charlie Pride, WKU director of student activities, said the civic engagement showed by the students Tuesday was exemplary and a necessary part of the education.

“They have to learn skills on how to work with each other and to work with people who don’t think the way that they do,” Pride said of the SGA session.

The SGA Senate meets at 5 p.m. every Tuesday in the Senate chamber on the second floor of Downing Student Union.

Read the article online.