Students light up talk on campus smoking policy

A smoke-free campus is one of the many things that attract students to Eastern. Few may realize, however, that a little over fifteen years ago, the administration allowed smoking on campus, and even provided designated lounges for smoking students. Still fewer may be aware that this allowance was later banned by the student body, and not for spiritual reasons.

The student body voted 72.5 percent in favor of the ban in November of 1989, according to a 1990 issue of the Waltonian.

According to Bettie Ann Brigham, vice president of student development, the smoking ban was instituted for health reasons and the many complaints the administration and student development received from non-smokers about the smoking lounges, roommate placement and the lingering smell from the smoke.

“The choice of not smoking was that of the students,” Brigham said. “Some Christian colleges ban smoking because it’s a spiritual issue; for Eastern it was a health issue,” not only for the non-smoking majority but also for the smokers themselves.

According to a 2002 national study conducted by Monitoring the Future, 26 percent of college students smoke cigarettes.

The study also reported that 28 percent of smokers began to smoke regularly at the age of 19, the average age of college first year students.

For one Eastern smoker, this trend proved true. Senior Trevor Pursel started smoking at age 18 at Lockhaven University.

“I had no reason to start, it was just one of those things when everyone met outside the dorms, talked and smoked,” he said. Pursel never bought his own pack of cigarettes until he was 20 years old. He now considers himself a social smoker.

Another Eastern smoker, junior Scott Fisher, had a similar experience.”I don’t even know what started it,” Fisher said. “I guess it was just boredom.”

Fisher had his first cigarette in seventh grade and would smoke a pack every two weeks. He didn’t start smoking on a regular basis until his first year at Eastern.

Though stories like Pursel’s and Fisher’s may seem ordinary, they are not as common as most may assume.

Another smoking literacy group, the Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium, reported that college students overestimate the frequency of smoking among peers and underestimate the potential long-term health effects of smoking.

With the current trends in anti-smoking education, most smokers are aware of the health risks, but the frequency of their habit determines how much they think it affects them individually.

“I know that smoking causes cancer; that’s obvious,” said junior Eric Dorville, who only smokes cigars. “But, oh well. I’m not really worried about that, because I only do it once or twice a month. Besides, you don’t even inhale cigars.”

Dorville’s roommate, senior Brian McClincey, agreed.

“Well, if you inhale, you’re screwed,” he said. McClincey does not inhale. “I don’t do it enough to have lasting effects,” he said.

Dorville and McClincey live off-campus, but do not smoke their cigars in public. McClincey reported smoking once or twice a month at International Tobacco, a cigar bar in the King of Prussia Mall.

“I do it in private so I don’t offend anybody,” he said. McClincey also has no problem with Eastern’s banning of tobacco products and smoking on or adjacent to the campus.

“I think it’s a good justification for keeping the campus beautiful and clean, but I don’t think it’s really something they’re able to regulate,” he said. “If you can legally smoke, they can’t really say you’re not allowed.”

While the decision to ban smoking for the university as a whole was based on health, some student smokers believe their spirituality is judged unfairly by some non-smokers.

“People use smoking as a moral thermometer or a litmus test for your faith,” said one Eastern smoker who wished to remain anonymous. “[People] automatically think that if you smoke it means you drink and do drugs.”

McClincey added that smoking is “OK” as long as the smoker does not over-indulge or allow it to develop into an addiction.

“It’s something God gave us with certain limitations,” he said. “I think it’s all right.”

Dorville agreed.

“Usually what ends up happening is that they use 1 Corinthians 6, about how the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but that verse is actually about fleeing sexual immorality,” Dorville explained.

Senior Ashley Butler disagreed. She interprets the verse to apply to much more, including gluttony and smoking.

“God gave the body a purpose,” she said. “Smoking will break your body down; it’s counterproductive.” Though Butler is against smoking, her opinion is not mindless.

“I think that when dealing with issues with Christianity, it’s the long-term consequences,” she said. “People get caught up in, ‘ooh, that’s bad,’ [but] they don’t think about why it is, that it hurts God’s heart.”

Dorville finds that Butler’s theology is only applicable in certain situations.”If you’re addicted, that’s a problem. But if you smoke only once or twice a month, that’s not a big deal,” Dorville said.

A clean conscience is not the only issue that smokers deal with. Smoking can get expensive. Pursel first found a way around the cost by secretly using the money his parents sent him.

Others have not been so lucky.

“I smoke everybody else’s cigarettes because I don’t really have that much cash,” Fisher said.

Butler recognizes the hardship that comes with the addiction, but stands by the student body of ’89.

“I feel badly for people who are addicted to nicotene,” she said, “but not so bad that I would want to inhale their smoke.”

People like Pursel and Fisher are respectful of the health-conscious non-smokers like Butler, but believe there exists a way of compromise.

“If we pay money to go here, there should at least be some sort of designated area for us,” Pursel said. Fisher agreed. Though he would never request smoking lounges because of the health risks, Fisher would like to see the university provide something for what he considers to be a productive hobby.

“When you’re sitting doing nothing you’re doing nothing,” he said, “but if you’re sitting smoking a cigarette, at least you’re doing something.”

With reporting by Tim Olshefski and Kate Carter.

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