As director of the Florida A&M University’s School of Allied Health’s Division of Cardiopulmonary Science, Simmons knows what smoking and tobacco use does to the heart and lungs of people, especially African-Americans. And Simmons believes FAMU should be at the forefront of discouraging smoking.
“This is something that I have been talking about with others on campus,” said Simmons, who has been at FAMU for 13 years. She oversees the four-year programthat trains respiratory therapists. “Big Tobacco has always marketed to African-Americans. I have taken care of many patients affected by tobacco.
“We’ve had complaints about second-hand smoke, some faculty have asthma, and are affected. And there’s third-hand smoke from that dropped butt. I’m still getting that smoke.”
Simmons recently secured support from the Faculty Senate in her drive to get the university designated a tobacco-free, smoke-free environment.
The process of making FAMU smoke and tobacco-free could take several months and a considerable amount of discussion addressing concerns — infringing on smokers’ rights, understanding addictions, health concerns and even the reasoning behind bringing the issue to the forefront. Simmons believes it’s time Rattlers became part of the solution against a problem that not only affects students, but also faculty and staff. Each year smoking related illnesses claim about 47,000 black lives in America.
Simmons said the Faculty Senate agreed to proceed by forming an ad hoc committee that would include representation from throughout the campus, including union representatives, to discuss the idea, hear what’s being proposed and to decide on whether to move forward. If there is agreement, a final proposal would be approved by the Faculty Senate and forwarded to President Elmira Mangum. If she approves, it would be forwarded to the board of trustees for approval since it is a policy decision.
If the proposal is approved, it could be implemented by the fall, Simmons said.
If FAMU goes tobacco-free and smoke-free it will join several other Florida public universities, including Florida State, the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida and University of South Florida.
As of Jan. 1, there are at least 1,475 campuses that are 100 percent smoke-free, according to the Americans for Non Smokers’ Rights website, (www.no-smoke.org). Of these, according to the advocacy group, 1,128 are 100-percent tobacco-free, and 802 prohibit the use of e-cigarettes anywhere on campus.
The organization reports the number has grown from the 586 campuses with 100-percent smoke-free campus policies in October 2011 and 446 campuses in October 2010.
At the same time, Truth Initiative, another anti-smoking advocacy organization, notes that most HBCUs do not have anti-tobacco, smoke-free policies. It is working with 33 universities, including FAMU, on getting such policies established.
If approved, the FAMU policy would restrict cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and e-cigarettes from being used on campus property. It also would restrict smoking in university-owned vehicles during work hours and include everyone.
It also would extend to contractors, vendors and visitors, she said.
“Once you hit the campus, you can’t smoke,” Simmons said.
She said the policy also would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes (“They are just as harmful as regular cigarettes”) and smoking hookah, which is popular among college students.
Simmons understands it’s going to take time to change the status quo.
“Anytime you are impeding someone’s rights,” she said, “you have to get all of the stakeholders involved; the entire FAMU campus.”
Amy Magnuson, director of health promotions at Florida State, said it took several years for FSU to go smoke-free.
A key part is convincing those on campus that it is needed, which may be the toughest hurdle. Students interviewed for this story had mixed reactions to the proposal. Many paused before commenting. Smoking cigarettes isn’t that prevalent on campus, they said, but occasionally they see someone lighting up.
Ottisha Torres, a freshman criminal justice major from Tampa, leans in favor of the policy change, largely because of the health risks.
“Second-hand smoke is just as bad as first-hand smoke,” she said. “Some people might have heart conditions. “I know some people who smoke but they don’t do it on campus.”
And of course Simmons will need backing from the faculty union. Elizabeth Davenport, president of the United Faculty of Florida chapter at FAMU, is noncommittal. She was unaware of the proposal. She plans to review it closely, especially in terms of how it would affect terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
“I’d like to see how the faculty feels about it,” said Davenport, a professor in theCollege of Education. “I’m all about being healthy, but I’m not willing to take someone’s right away from them. Smoking can be an addiction. I’d like to survey others to see what they feel about it. I have no opinion on it.”
However, some see the smoke free desigation as an overreach. Jontay Manigault, a sophomore business administration major for Orlando, said an outright ban seems extreme. He would rather designated areas on campus for smokers.
“I actually don’t know a lot of students who smoke on campus,” Manigault said, standing outside the Lawson Center. “Banning it all together impedes on your freedom. You have the freedom to smoke if you want. You smoke at your own risk.”
Meanwhile Simmons is picking up support wherever she can. She said the FAMU initiative is supported by the Florida Department of Health, Big Bend Area Health Center and Tobacco Free Leon by providing educational materials, funding and suggestions on how to move forward. But in the end, the FAMU campus will have to decide.
Contact senior writer Byron Dobson at email@example.com or on Twitter @byrondobson.
What FAMU students are saying about smoke-free campus proposal
Howard Milligan, a fourth-year business administration major at FAMU, said as someone who suffers from asthma, he would support the measure.
“Being a non-smoking campus would help a lot with my health condition,” he said.
Anquinette Taylor didn’t flinch in giving her support to the ban.
“There’s no reason anyone should be smoking on campus,” she said. “I’m definitely in support of it. I just don’t feel school is the place.”
“I don’t feel like it has to be a tobacco-free,” said Angelo White, a senior business major from Sarasota, who favors the Black and Mild cigars, a popular choice for young men and women. “You have students, faculty member and advisers who use tobacco and to take that away from me as a student, I would be upset because I feel it would be a stress-reliever, of sorts.”