Up in flames: Getting to the butt of cigarette smoking culture

Cigarettes are often quickly finished as soon as they’re lit outside of the library, leisurely smoked in the middle of conversation at the Four Winds or shared among Wall attendees tired from dancing in the middle of Palm Court. In the past few months, this common practice has been a hot button issue on the Forum, on Yik Yak and among Resident Advisors (RAs) who have been vocal about getting to the butt of cigarette smoking culture on campus.

“There’s a social proof element to it,” first-year Brianna Luis said. “I can deny it all I want but there are also other very intelligent people who I am surrounded by who also do it. I can control it to where I don’t smoke during the week and, if I were to not smoke anymore, I wouldn’t care, at this point anyway. The thought [of being addicted] does cross my mind but I don’t usually think about it.”

Less than eight months ago, Luis, a fan of Camel Reds and Camel 99s, had never smoked a cigarette. Luis picked the habit up during her first semester at New College. Luis said that she is more concerned with those around her who do not want to be subjected to secondhand smoke but may not voice their discomfort.

Secondhand smoke is an issue that is not often discussed.

“There is a student on our campus who has had a lung transplant recently, as a result of a specific condition,” Coordinator of Student Disabilities Services Meighen Hopton said. “This student, if they are exposed to secondhand smoke, will automatically have to go straight to the hospital and have their lungs checked.”

Secondhand smoke can also be triggering for students with autism.

“[There are] students who are on the autism spectrum that have a very high sense of smell so they are very sensitive to all smells,” Hopton said. “Cigarette smoking seems to be on the very top of the list. It puts them in a state of anxiety and panic when they smell it or are exposed to it directly. […] I’ve also had students have asthma attacks as a result of secondhand smoke.”

On the other hand, when being cognizant of how health plays into cigarette smoking, there are students with mental illnesses who rely on this habit to function in their day to day life.

“Psychologically, smoking in their mind does help them calm down,” Hopton said. “But Nicotine is actually a stimulant. […] There are many students suffering from anxiety and depression, borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder, especially when manic, who, for them, thought it is a stimulant, it does calm them down in the moment and it becomes a routine.”

Several people have pointed to creating smoke tolerant areas that can easily be avoided by students who do not wish to be around cigarette smoke.

“On the issue of making this school a smoke-free campus, I’m torn because I have students who tell me that this is going to be detrimental to my mental health if this happens but then I have another group of students who for health reasons, valid health reasons, need to be in a smoke-free environment,” Hopton said. “So I think that a happy medium would be designated smoking-free areas.”

When asked where smoking tolerant areas on campus were, many students and members of administration recalled the no smoking within fifteen feet of a building rule. Cigarette dispensers are also located in the middle of the Pei courts, enticing many to smoke in the middle of that residential area in order to dispose of their cigarettes properly.

Photo credit: Giulia Heyward

Housing recently issued hearings for several students who were found smoking in second court near the ice-machine, in an area known as the stoop.

“Last semester, the RAs had actually told us to smoke there at the tables because there were some complaints from people walking in Palm Court,” first-year Carlyle Styer said.

Styer said that several residents of second court then received emails notifying them that they had failed to follow verbal instructions.

Third-year Eve Burns claimed that she had never received an email before being issued her hearing.

“I had never been told to not smoke there, I had never received an email and I had never been verbally told not to do so,” Burns said.

Burns and Styer both share frustration over the lack of specified spaces on campus where they can smoke.  

“The majority of us get the fact that it’s not healthy and it’s not a nice thing to be around,” Burns said.

Others view the situation in a different light.

“The stoop is a high traffic area for people walking into second court and there has been a problem lately with a lot of people congregating there smoking and there have been numerous complaints from residents and people walking by complaining that it’s detrimental to their health,” second-year student and RA Alexis Pujol said. “I know several RAs who have had to deal with this kind of thing and it’s really annoying when you try to talk to someone as a person, as a fellow student, and you are constantly ignored.”

Pujol said that a similar issue occurred in first court last semester with students smoking at the picnic table. Residents were complaining that the smoke was going into their rooms. According to Pujol, the situation was resolved once the RAs of first court cracked down on smoking. A solution that may soon expand to the entire school.

“Eventually we will have to be either smoke free or tobacco free,” Health Coordinator Amanda “Mandy” Parente said. “The government states that all SUS [State University System] schools have to do that so we are hoping to spearhead that and start to implement some smaller changes so that, when it does happen, it’s not a shock to our culture. […] I would expect in the next two or three years, at the latest, that all schools will be smoke or tobacco free.”

This news is a problem for students who may need to quit smoking in order to appease the potential policy change. “I would say that there are more students here who smoke than don’t smoke,” Hopton said. “They find it very difficult to quit because, everywhere they go, they see people smoking.”

But the financial cost of quitting smoking is often left out of the conversation. A box of nicotine patches is on average $100, while the entire three-step process of quitting smoking requires three boxes, totaling $300. The cost can be prohibitive, especially for students who do not receive any financial assistance.

“There are a couple resources for college students,” Parente said. “Tobacco Free Florida will offer smoking cessation classes and you can get up to four weeks of nicotine replacement therapy for free.”

With the amount of attention that smoking culture on campus has received, many are left wondering how exactly the presence of this habit will affect the community in the future.

Free nicotine patches can be ordered from tobaccofreeflorida.com.

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