By Allison Milton/The AS Review
There was a time when a Western student could buy a candy bar and a pack of Marlboro Lights and head off to class without ever leaving campus.
On May 17, 2000, the Viking Union Administration decided to discontinue the sale of tobacco products from the 6th floor VU information desk where the tobacco products were sold. The decision was made after the Associated Students Facilities and Services Council was asked for input on matters involving facility management.
There were many factors in this decision, including issues regarding legality, medical impacts, government policy and institutional reasons.
While it wasn’t illegal for the information desk to sell tobacco, the stigma against cigarettes and the health impacts of smoking, as well as the potential for litter problems on campus, there were many people, including board members and members of the administration, that were questioning the sales of tobacco products.
Before the Washington Clean Indoor Air Act, which banned smoking indoors in 1985, it was legal for professors and students to smoke inside (except in class), such as in a professor’s office, Viking Union Director Jim Schuster said.
According to the official documents of the decision, there was a divide on the issue, but the majority opinion favored eliminating tobacco sales. It also said, “since smoking is not allowed in public buildings and is not allowed at university-offered programs, there is little reason to offer tobacco as a convenience item. Those wanting to smoke in outdoor, public spaces can do so provided they purchase tobacco products prior to coming to campus.”
The money generated from tobacco sales, which according to Schuster grossed about $100,000 a year, was deposited in the VU’s Housing and Dining System account and helped to pay for the salaries of the information desk employees.
Now, without tobacco bringing in a large chunk of the profits, the information desk is grossing about $25,000 a year, Schuster said.
The reason tobacco sales generated so much money was due to many factors. It might have been the convenience for many students to purchase tobacco right here on campus or the fact that cigarettes were the most expensive items sold at the desk, Schuster said.
When the tobacco sales ban came into effect on Western’s campus, there were some students who weren’t fond of the idea.
“They understood, but they felt they were being discriminated against,” Schuster said.
Currently, Western follows state law, which says smoking is banned within 25 feet of any window, door or vent. Initiative 901, which was passed in Washington in 2005, banned smoking in most public locations, including bars, bowling alleys and reception areas.
It isn’t just Western that has cracked down on tobacco sales on campus; Schuster said a lot of other schools have gone smoke-free as well.
The administration looked at data collected from other schools, and of 18 schools that were looked at, seven of them sell tobacco on campus and 11 do not.
Rochester Community and Technical College in Rochester, Minn. went a step further this year and banned tobacco use altogether, stating in their policy, “RCTC is committed to creating a clean, safe, and healthy learning and working environment; and recognizes its responsibility to promote the health, welfare and safety for students, staff and others on college property. RCTC also recognizes that the use of tobacco in any form poses serious and long-term health risks to individuals, therefore adopts the following Tobacco Use and Sale Policy.”
Even though smoking is still present on Western’s campus, Schuster said you won’t be able to buy cigarettes on campus any time soon.