The Norman Transcript

November 11, 2011

Residents voice support for tobacco ban on OU campus

By James S. Tyree
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — A number of people Thursday at the Oklahoma Memorial Union voiced their full support of a tobacco ban on the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus.

Others said restricting tobacco use is OK if there are designated smoking areas around the campus, so as not to restrict the rights of smokers.

But no one who spoke at the public discussion expressed outrage over the prospect of a tougher tobacco policy on the Norman campus.

One student lamented, “Why is this (ban) taking so long; I wish it was coming faster.”

Conversely, OU law student RJ Harris said a blanket prohibition of a “lawful activity and a legal substance” limits the rights of citizens, though he sees no problem with narrower restrictions that address specific goals, such as curbing second-hand smoke and reducing litter.

OU President David Boren earlier this fall said that he wants a tobacco ban for the Norman campus by January. A number of colleges and universities have smoking or complete tobacco bans already, including the OU Health Sciences Center and Oklahoma State University.

The OU Board of Regents would have to give final approval, but Boren formed a committee to research and recommend the best ways to implement a ban.

The committee organized the informal discussion Thursday at Beaird Lounge inside the Oklahoma Memorial Union to gather public input.

Gary Raskob, dean of OU’s College of Public Health at the Health Sciences Center, led the discussion.

“We’re trying to approach this in a thoughtful way, not judgmental of any behavior, but from the perspective of health,” Raskob said.

The dean said both of his parents smoked, including a mother who died of lung cancer when Raskob was 19, and a wife who used to smoke.

With that history, Raskob said, “I understand the personal side of this, but we want to approach this from an objective, sensitive way.”

Raskob also said the committee has yet to finalize recommendations, that the process is still in the input stage.

Questions and comments varied from the audience. A graduate student who belongs to the Kiowa tribe said tobacco is part of worship for some American Indian tribes, and so a total ban would infringe on their religious freedom rights on campus.

An undergraduate asked Raskob why OU officials are clamping down on tobacco when alcohol is the more serious problem among students.

Raskob said the idea of banning tobacco came from students, and that the current focus on tobacco “doesn’t preclude the same thing from happening with alcohol.”

Local health advocate Travis Humphrey said resources to help people quit tobacco is vital to the tobacco ban he favors, as does physician Tim Mauldin, who said Oklahoma has about 6,000 tobacco-related deaths per year, including 700 from second-hand smoke.

Raskob said the committee has and will continue to read and consider emailed public comments sent to tobaccopolicy@ou.edu.

James S. Tyree 366-3541 jtyree@normantranscript.com