City-wide smoking ban proposed

The Wichitan

By Cody Samples and Paden Lemons

Community leaders are taking steps to address growing health concerns in Wichita County, starting with obesity and tobacco use. One of the measures being discussed even includes a ban on smoking in all public places similar to the largely unenforced policy at Midwestern.

“Wichita Falls ranks 152 out of 232 counties [surveyed] in Texas when it comes to people’s overall health,” Amy Fagan, assistant director of health for the Wichita County Public Health District, said. “That’s bad. That’s simply bad.”

An estimated 19.8 percent of Wichita County currently smokes, compared to 15.8 percent in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“One out of five people in our community smoke,” Fagan said. “Texas as a whole is bad among states.”

According to the Community Health Improvement Plan booklet, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death. In addition to lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, tobacco usage increases the risk for stroke, heart disease, other cancers and diabetes.

However, as a community, tobacco use has not always been seen as a health issue, unlike alcohol and drug abuse.

“We can’t make Wichita Falls healthier without everyone,” Lou Kreidler, nurse and director of health at Wichita County Public Health District, said.

Smoking at MWSU

Smoking is also a problem on college campuses in Texas with about 33 to 40 percent of students smoking on campus. In fact, many still smoke at MSU despite student-enforced efforts to ban smoking on campus.

The MSU smoking-ban policy states smokers cannot smoke in or around any MSU buildings, outdoor areas on campus or in any university vehicles.

Chief of Police Dan Williams said that in the three years that the policy has been in effect, there have been less than five official reports of someone violating the policy.

Claire Isbell, senior in history, said, “If people want to smoke, they’re going to. I am indifferent towards smoking on campus.”

Other students feel that the policy should be strictly enforced because of health concerns.

“I’m asthmatic, so when people smoke, I have a little attack,” Kassandra Jacobson, sophomore in social work, said. “I don’t like telling anyone what they can and can’t do.”

Students also feel that they are limited in enforcing the ban. The policy states that one should just inform a violator anytime the need comes up. Worse still, some students do not even know the policy or its restrictions exist.

Peyton Cannedy, sophomore in accounting, said, “I have never even been informed of the policy. I’ve never seen or heard anything about it.”

Even as a senior, Isbell said she felt left in the dark about the policy.

“I know very little about the peer-enforced policy,” Isbell said. “Only today did I find out about the details.”

Shaela Kobs, sophomore in nursing, said the policy is ineffective because students do not have the authority or means to tell their peers to stop smoking on campus.

“If I just tell someone to stop smoking, they are not going to listen to me,” Kobs said.

Director of Recreational Sports and the Wellness Center Joey Greenwood said in a 2009 Administrative Council meeting that the purpose of the policy would be to promote a safe, healthy and pleasant campus environment. According to the policy, enforcement is “the responsibility of all students, faculty, staff and campus visitors to uphold the honor of the university by affirming our commitment to this policy,” which some students feel is not enough to stop smoking on campus.

“The policy doesn’t work because college students have independent minds, and they don’t want to be apprehended by other students on what they can or can’t do,” Cannedy said.

Six months before the policy went into effect, seminars and classes were held over the dangers of tobacco and the health issues that go along with it to help students understand the purpose of the new policy.

“I don’t think that they would be effective. The people who are smoking don’t care. They don’t want to go to a seminar to change anything. There may be a select few who want to quit, but there probably won’t be a good turnout,” Isbell said.

Community leaders make ban a top priority

However, not all college students believe smoking is for them. These particular students feel as though it’s a habit that they don’t want to start.

“Smoking is bad for your health,” Chance Boulware, junior in pre-pharmacy, said. “I can’t stand the smell, and it kills my already damaged lungs. The smoke also gets on everything, makes it smell and stains it.”

Isbell said she has lost many family members to cancer caused by smoking

“My grandfather died from lung cancer when I was very young, and my dad, younger brother, and uncle smoke presently,” she said.

Community leaders said they want to put an emphasis on banning smoking in public their top priority, which they believe can help get all the other programs started.

Howard Farrell, vice president of university advancement and public affairs, said curbing smoking in public places might be the catalyst for the other groups to work on other aspects of their health.

“Smoking can be the pony that pulls everything else,” Farrell said. “Ban smoking in public places.”

Some of the strategies the leaders have for this project include increasing the number of merchants, restaurants, work sites and public buildings that are tobacco free. They also want to implement evidence-based programs designed to prevent the use of tobacco among youth.

“I see young kids almost every day in my neighbor smoking a cigarette, or even worse, having chewing tobacco in their mouths and it just makes me sick thinking that they are starting a bad habit at such a young age,” Juarez said.

Cecilia Juarez, sophomore in biology, said, “I looked up to my brother a lot when I was younger, so whenever he started smoking, I thought it was cool, and I wanted to be like him, so I did it.”

Community leaders said they believe that by banning smoking in public places, some short-term impacts would include a reduction in tobacco products and an increase in the number of prevention programs implemented.

Fagan said the leaders expect some backlash from people in the community, especially from restaurant owners as they begin to draft the policy and bring it before city council.

If the ordinance goes through, there will be no smoking in any public place, such as restaurants, offices, parks, etc.

Kreidler said at the Wichita County Public Health District, her employees were more concerned about other issues.

“I got more flack from taking junk food away than smoking,” she said.

Kreidler also said she must also make her fellow co-workers be healthier as well as help lead the fight against smoking in public places.

“As a staff, why aren’t we doing it and being the example when it comes to being healthy?” Kreidler said.

Public opinion is also important, and Howard feels as though the community needs to be in agreement for the ban to be successful.

“Can we sway some public opinion before it goes in front of the city council?” Howard said.

Austin leaders banned smoking in public places, and Kreidler said businesses did not lose money, but were actually helped by the ban on public smoking, as more people came out to the bars as a result.

“In Austin, businesses thought they would lose customers, but they actually gained business,” Kreidler said.

When the ban on public smoking is enforced, leaders hope for a reduction in heart disease, cancer rates and strokes, and that the community as a whole will be healthier because of it.

“To me, the world would be a better place if smoking was banned in public, so that when I go to bars, I don’t have to cover my mouth just to be able to breathe,” Boulware said.

Tobacco use is responsible for nearly one in five deaths in the United States, and cigarette smoking is the major single cause of cancer mortality.