Smoking in Secrecy: A non-smoking campus and those who smoke on it

Updated: May 18, 2020

Aaron Cortinas • Staff Writer

Everyone has seen one. Tucked behind a building, standing near a thick patch of trees or taking a puff before walking into the UC. Despite UT Tyler’s Tobacco-Free Policy going into effect in fall 2016, smokers are still on campus. The policy has made them secretive about their habit.

This area at Ornelas Hall is where an anonymous ex-smoker and senior English major says that he used to smoke socially. “We would all just sit outside,” he says reminiscing. “Smoke, talk about life, politics, whatever.”

The Tobacco-Free Policy went into effect after the faculty senate voted on the issue in November 2015. Former UT Tyler President Dr. Rodney Mabry approved the measure and announced the new policy in March 2016.

Smoking on campus used to cause issues. According to the March 31, 2015 edition of the Patriot Talon, 5,486 cigarette butts were collected during a university cigarette pick-up.

Additionally, Mass Communication professor Anita Brown says that some smokers used to smoke too close to entrances.

“There were people who didn’t care,” Brown says. “From a non-smoker perspective … it sucked.”

The policy bans tobacco and vape usage on all university property, including housing and parking lots. Violators are allowed three consequence-free offenses. However, the fourth offense requires a violator to complete a mandatory educational program.

Smokers say that the policy is loosely-enforced, but they don’t want stricter enforcement. Almost all of the smokers in this story wanted to remain anonymous. Many of their friends or co-workers know that they smoke, but they fear retribution from UT Tyler’s authority figures.

“I genuinely don’t think they enforce it,” an anonymous smoker and junior political science major says. “I hope they don’t start enforcing the policy … nobody really cares as long as you’re being courteous.”

An anonymous university employee agrees.

“As long as you’re not bothering anyone, they’re generally not going to give you any hassle,” he says.

Echoing this, a university employee and senior marketing major smokes in his car and has never experienced harassment.

“Not a single person even shot me a glance … no one cares except the person who made up this rule,” he says.

An anonymous junior and former RA at University Pines Apartments says people have seen her vape between classes and said nothing to her.

“Have I?” Yes, she says. “Has anyone ever said anything? No.”

Dean of Student Conduct Dave Hill says he received 19 reports of smoking violations in 2017 and 14 in 2018. During the 2017-2018 academic year, four people were repeat offenders. Hill has never seen anyone exceed the third offense.

Although smokers say the policy is loosely-enforced, some say that it has affected their smoking habits on campus.

Ash trays, like this one outside of the Meadows Gallery, can still be spotted around campus. It’s likely that they’re a less full these days.

“It’s made me smoke less,” Brown says. “I don’t have time to run downstairs every five minutes that I want a cigarette … which has, in turn I think, helped me … smoke less at home also.”

“I’ve been smoking a lot less now,” says the anonymous university employee. “I wait ‘till I’m off.”

Hill says that the policy wasn’t put in place for conduct reasons.

“They wanted to take an educational development approach,” Hill says. “If you want to clamp down on it, you can, but I don’t think anyone would be happy with that … Any resources that we could put into that, and this is complete speculation on my part … most likely they’ve got better things to do.”

It seems smokers and university authorities have an unsaid mutual agreement. Smokers have accepted keeping their habit out of public view, and university authorities don’t see them as a discipline priority.

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