A smoke-free campus protects the health of all, but frustrates some

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EL PASO — Some students and staff at The University of Texas at El Paso say that smoking cigarettes can ease the stress that comes with study or work, but that tension isn’t going away any time soon. After 100 years the cloud of tobacco smoke at UTEP is lifting.

UTEP banned the use of all tobacco products from university property on February 20.

Notifications for the major campus reform came through a mass email that afternoon but for some the full realization didn’t hit home until they arrived on campus the following week. The school mascot PayDirt Pete adorned Smoke Free Campus signs and orange flags representing tobacco litter on the floor were there like slaps in the faces of unaware smokers.

This massive reform affects too many people to be broadcast through only an email, according to smoker Tony Acuna, who was one of many regulars hanging out outside the doors of the library. He said that his rights are at stake.

“Smoking is my choice, just as eating fast food,” said Acuna. “Why not ban fast food as well? If health is the real concern, I would like to see the university go all out. Not just after the smokers.”

But there is still some relief for smokers. They are allowed to smoke inside their cars, as long as the smoke is contained and tobacco waste is properly disposed of.

One professor who smokes received the memo at 5:10 p.m. on February 20th, but he said he saw it coming. “I work with the speech and debate team and we visit several colleges around the country,” said the professor who asked to remain nameless. “I may not agree with how it was implemented, especially communication within an organization, but I saw this as inevitable.”

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The school mascot PayDirt Pete adorns Smoke Free Campus signs. Photo credit: Aaron Bedoya

The main force behind the reform is the Paso del Norte Group, an organization of community leaders and its Paso del Norte Health Foundation. They created Smoke Free Paso del Norte, an initiative that has been working with the Department of Psychology at UTEP.

They were Awarded an “Organizing Agency” grant in 2006 and they set dates for the implementation of the program between January, 2012 and December, 2014. Smoke Free mainly focuses on youth prevention, adult cessation and environmental safety.

Nora Hernández has been the program manager for Smoke Free Paso del Norte since 2007. She said she hopes the reform will promote better health for the institution and become a model for other campuses throughout the nation.

“There was a lot of movement from other institutions and of course the trend nationwide of multiple campuses going tobacco free,” said Hernández. “This decision was started back in 2012.”

In August of last year, the University of Texas System Office of General Counsel approved the policy and then procedures, were announced on campus February 20.

“We obtained model language from other UT components that have already passed this type of policy. We used the same model,” said Hernández.

According to model language from other UT policies, the trendy e-cigarettes are also forbidden by the new procedure. Hernandez said that this will be the push to quit. Quitting may not be an option for some students, but if they don’t refrain from smoking on campus, they face consequences.

“We are just promoting for them to follow the policy and maintain respect for everyone around,” said Hernández. “We politely ask them to not smoke. In communication with the police department, we are informing them to adhere to our policy.”

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